Is image sharing “social networking” that should be blocked?

| October 16, 2008

An increasing number of pathologists share images for illustration and/or query "What is your diagnosis?" on cases whether for help or other thoughts or as unknowns once a case has been worked up and diagnosed.  These include sites such as Flickr, Photobucket and others. 

One in particular I check out from time to time is from a pathologist in Texas by the name of Ed Uthman who has posted thousands of pathology images on Flickr in addition to personal photos.  I use his examples for my own lectures and to teach residents as the images are generally of high quality and good examples.

Recently someone else on the listserv tried going to the site to view the images and apparently was blocked from doing so according to this post:

"And so, I just got on the phone with our local eHealth department at our local regional health authority. And the woman on the phone said that the instruction is to keep Flickr and other image sharing websites BLOCKED.

There is nothing else I can say. I am extremely angry having went the regular route of reasoning with IT department bureaucrats and having eventually had to speak to concrete walls.

She said Flickr is for "social networking" and has to remain blocked. I explained and explained but to no avail.

For the other colleagues who talked to IT departments and got Flickr unblocked, you probably have IT personnel with one drop more sense and logic than we have here."

Fortunately I do not have this issue at my institution but have seen this kind of thing from other IT shops including other popular sites such as those for web-based e-mail and other "social networking" sites. 

I think our hospital IT colleagues need to be sensitive about uniformly blocking "social networking" sites that often have other significant deliverables that health care professionals can derive benefit from by sharing their knowledge whether it comes in the form of image sharing, opinions, questions or discussion about the challenging issues we all face on a daily basis.  These Web 2.0 tools are enabling and highly informative and should be recognized as such as supported when IT departments have concerns that are contrary to that. 

Category: General Healthcare News, Web/Tech

Comments (4)

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  1. I had the experience as CIO in 2001 from a hospital to decide about allowing access to the internet or not. At that time that was the discussion. I strongly pushed to allow internet access.
    I am IT profile specialised in Healthcare and I do believe professionals should be allowed to have access to all the possible tools (email, flickr, etc.) being social or not, since they have the capability to decide what is good or not for their daily activity. I do support free of access with responsability.
    I also think doctors may decide to use services that are done for medical purposes. That was one of the facts that motivated me to run a new service for publishing and interchanging medical images on the internet (called Medting). Precisely I am finding that problem, ¿publishing images?
    There are concerns about data privacy but also doctors need to interchange wihout barriers in the Global Health era that is coming. We are trying to solve barriers of cost, language translation, service.
    But still medical centers don’t like just to publish their content in a foreing platform since they feel they “loose something”. We are actually selling “Medting Software” to medical centers, so they can purchase a license and create their own academic repository to post their content and privately (intranet) give access to their users. We are seen that this business model is working pretty well.
    But we will continue Fighting for also creating the real Youtube for doctrs.

  2. Keith says:

    Thanks for the comment. Ironically, I just came across a white paper on a news feed that quotes you back in 2001 talking about this issue and the solutions. While I can see IT point of view about certain sites and activities that may not seem “professional” or suitable for the workplace, they need to be cognizant of the fact that most of the access is indeed for professional reasons and exchanging healthcare information for professional development and growth. Watch out – these folks may block in the near future as it catches on….!

  3. EM says:

    Once one grows out of the usual “my-IT-people-are-abusive” complaints, the solution is obvious : a picture-sharing site for professionals only.
    Such sites exist, for example, and IT gnomes have no problem with them. What are we pathologists waiting for?

  4. Ed Uthman says:

    Private image-sharing sites should certainly be encouraged, but it is unlikely that they could ever compete with the economy and robustness of popular sites like Flickr and YouTube. In the case of Flickr, for a flat fee of US$25 a year, I can post an unlimited number of images, including downloadable high-resolution versions suitable for publication, and give them all Creative Commons licenses, so that anyone can use them for any purpose (which I do for all my specimen images). I can tag the images, either individually or in groups, so that they can be found by search engines like Google and Yahoo. Users can easily append comments to the images, and I can set Flickr to notify me by email when someone has posted a comment, so that I can respond to it.
    So, while we do need to set up our own specialized sites, we must also act in concert to stand up to autocratic IT administrators that would restrict our access to these highly useful Web 2.0 applications. I would urge CAP and other professional organizations to formally adopt policies advocating unrestricted Website access by medical professionals.