Doctors Use Snapchat to Share Patient Scans, UK Report Finds

Jul 05, 2017

As hospitals struggle to keep up with modern communication technology, U.K. physicians are turning to ordinary apps like Snapchat to share medical photos of their patients, according to a new report.

The report was prepared by Google-owned Deep Mind as part of an independent review of the company's work, which includes helping hospitals deploy artificial intelligence and other new technology.

In discussing the doctors' use of unauthorized apps, the report acknowledges the practice is convenient but not viable in the longer term:

Seeing the difference that technology makes in their own lives, clinicians are already manufacturing their own technical fixes. They may use Snapchat to send scans from one clinician to another or camera apps to record particular details of patient information in a convenient format. It is difficult to criticise these individuals, given that this makes their job possible. However, this is clearly an insecure, risky, and nonauditable way of operating, and cannot continue. (emphasis added)

The report also observes how technology has "largely bypassed" Britain's National Health Service, which it says also has the "dubious title of being the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines."

In this context, it's no surprise physicians are turning to familiar consumer apps to share images from their patients—even if doing so can put the integrity of medical records at risk.

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The Snapchat discussion is just one small part of the report. The rest focuses on how Deep Mind can provide its technology to hospitals, while also ensuring its parent company, Alphabet (goog), does not come too close to the data it collects.

Last week, a separate report by Britain's data regulator warned that Deep Mind and a trust set up by the NHS had "failed to comply with data protection law" while conducting a project involving 1.6 million kidney patients.

Meanwhile, more medical students and physicians in the U.S. are turning to an app called Figure 1, which some have dubbed "Instagram for doctors." The app, which blurs tattoos and other marks that might identify a patient, recently added a direct messaging feature.

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