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Patient Privacy Rights Extend Beyond U.S. Borders, Ethicists Say

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 22, 2011

U.S. patients who agree to be photographed sign consent forms. Black says even getting consent from patients in developing countries poses an ethical challenge, because patients may feel they have to sign the form to receive medical care. Also, because the Internet is borderless, posting pictures to social networking sites could have repercussions for some patients, particularly if the images were taken in countries where being treated by an American doctor is frowned upon. 

Even posting photos to a "private" page is not really ensuring patient privacy because, in some cases, the person posting the photo could be sharing it with 1,000 "friends," Black said. 

"We are not telling people not to do anything," Black said. "We are telling them to think about it. Use your moral and ethical compass. What if this was your child?"


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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2 comments on "Patient Privacy Rights Extend Beyond U.S. Borders, Ethicists Say"


Wanda (2/23/2011 at 2:57 PM)
Privacy rights article is certainly food for thought. I travel at least once per year doing medical clinics in 3rd world countries with church or christian mission work related. I have never posted these on face book but always take pictures and share in other formats promoting volunteerism to other professionals. Most clients coming for care are very eager to have their photo taken, in fact. I personally do not have an ethical problem related to photos being shared. It is for a greater good. Standards of care: When you are working in a romote area in the feild in a foreign country you do the best and most good you can do with the supplies and equipment you have with you. There is no way you can practice medicine in the feild to the same standard of care you do in a clean sterile office or hospital. You do use universal precautions and not jeperdize r the patient's or your own safety in the feild and good common nursing or medical judgement. To qoute an unknown scource, "It is what it is." Some care is better than no care. Thank God for volunteers. They pay their own way, they take their own purchased or donated supplies and they do more good in a weeks worth of free care clincs than they probably do in 6 months in their regular jobs. And the people they serve are greatful and appreciate the care they are given.

MCF (2/22/2011 at 10:33 AM)
Privacy is a relative thing. I have traveled extensively and trying to explain a picture or the internet in some areas is not even comprehendible. In addition, some cultures privacy is not even understood. Life is transparent, nudity is common, and ownership does not exist. We need to stop trying to force our "ethical codes" - which are flawed, into the world and get over ourselves as the "enlightened".