Looking for a way to kill a little time surfing the web? Consider a search for bad plastic surgery.

The subject can supply endless pictures and commentary about who is a Do and who is a Don’t. It’s a topic that nearly everyone has an opinion on, yet no one wants or plans to become a plastic surgery Don’t. The fact that there are so many cases of botched cosmetic procedures is one of the reasons why a cache of before-and-after photos are an important element of any cosmetic practice.

Used on websites, advertising, and in the office, before-and-after photos can be one of the best ways to showcase the results of a procedure and provide a level of assurance that the plastic surgeon will deliver the desired results. Although these photos are an accepted and important part of the exploration process and plastic surgery consult, photos obtained without the proper patient consent can result in an unintentional HIPAA violation.

Protection and Portability of Medical Records

HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was created to protect the health information and related medical records used by doctors, hospitals, health plans, and other healthcare providers. Its regulations apply to all medical practitioners, whether they are a plastic surgeon, dentist, chiropractor, or medical doctor.

Effective since April 2003, the law provides a level of confidentiality regarding patient information for treatment and healthcare operations. It’s also meant to improve portability when health insurance is moved from one plan to another. Though for most consumers, HIPAA is best understood as a way to secure the confidentiality of medical records and protect the privacy of an individual during the course of a medical consult or procedure.

Despite its prevalent use throughout all medical industries, there still exists consumer confusion on what does or does not constitute a HIPAA violation. This is why it’s important to be very clear, in writing, how photos taken or a likeness will be used by the practice. This can include, but is not limited to, pre- and postprocedure photos, digital imaging, videotaping, and all other visual recordings.

Even if a signed consent is received, there still exists a liability concern if the individual considers its use to be an invasion of privacy. For example, not everyone wants their procedure to be a matter of public information, no matter how good the work may be.

Additional Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Practice

  • Explicitly state, in writing, why a photo is taken;
  • Supply guidelines of how photos, videos, digital recordings, and other images are used to document care;
  • Retain rights to all photos and likenesses with patient access at any time;
  • Store photos, digital recordings, videotaping, and all other likenesses in a secure way; and
  • Create a separate consent form for images used for publicity or teaching applications.