Though no identifiers such as names or contact information are included, it is illegal for doctors and midwives to post photos of the babies of their patients on their office wall, though this has been a common practice since not long after the advent of photography.
Under HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), baby photos are a type of protected health information, no less than a medical chart, birth date or Social Security number, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Even if a parent sends in the photo, it is considered private unless the parent also sends written authorization for its posting, which almost no one does. A thoughtful piece in The New York Times mulls over this and is worth the read for those involved with protecting health information. The comments are thought-provoking as well, such as this one:
“Yes, the HIPAA privacy rules do forbid public displays of baby pictures. That’s perhaps too bad, but it’s not life threatening.
“The real problem with the HIPAA privacy regulations is that while they do address a real issue – the use and often abuse of private medical information for non-medical purposes (for example marketing), the rules have brought about a much more serious problem: the frequent inavailability to legitimate health care providers of important medical information regarding patients, information these doctors (and other providers) need to make urgent, life saving, medical decisions.
“The HIPAA rules and data security requirements are well intentioned, but complex and difficult to implement, and the penalties for non-compliance severe. In the real world it’s hard for the custodians of medical data (such as hospitals) to prohibit unauthorized access, while at the same time permitting it for care providers with a real need to know. And sometimes medical care suffers as a result. The security requirements can be particularly troublesome, as it’s hard with present technology to implement data security that is both secure and functional.
“HIPAA regulations will probably some day find the right balance. But we’re not there yet. And medical care is sometimes shortchanged as a result.”
Certainly the IME and peer review industry has been impacted in recent years, as has the larger world of health care and insurance, with ongoing focus and concerns on maintaining data security, to where it is a cornerstone of providing quality services to claimants. As this reader notes, it is important to remember what the purpose of these industries is—providing for the health of the patient—and to ensure our procedures all work to this end.