Pathology 2.0 Comes of Age: Recommendations for Protecting Privacy While Motivating Education

| August 10, 2016

There is an interesting article in this month’s AMA Journal of Ethics by Drs. Crane and Gardner on the use of pathology images in social media. The authors introduce the article in their abstract as “There is a rising interest in the use of social media by pathologists. However, the use of pathology images on social media has been debated, particularly gross examination, autopsy, and dermatologic condition photographs. The immediacy of the interactions, increased interest from patients and patient groups, and fewer barriers to public discussion raise additional considerations to ensure patient privacy is protected. Yet these very features all add to the power of social media for educating other physicians and the non-medical public about disease and for creating better understanding of the important role of pathologists in patient care. The professional and societal benefits are overwhelmingly positive, and we believe the potential for harm is minimal provided common sense and routine patient privacy principles are utilized. We lay out ethical and practical guidelines for pathologists who use social media professionally.”

The paper continues with review of the use of images and pathology information on social media sites with some recommendations and guidelines for sharing images on the web and some common sense “dos” and “don’ts” to protect patient privacy while providing images that are educational and informative for the pathology community.

I could not agree more. Several years ago I presented a talk at a CAP Futurescape meeting thinking about how interesting would it be to share images on Facebook or Twitter to share, collaborate and comment on as well, even asking Twitter at the time to not ask the question “What are you doing?” but “What are you thinking?” and post images for sharing, comment and criticism (see reference below).  It is a part of my regular practice today, avoiding using patient identifiers or perhaps when/where I saw the case for sharing with friends and followers.  While no one is advocating these images should in and of themselves be the basis for clinical treatment decisions, if offered, they do offer a platform among pathologists as well as others to share their experiences or simply “like” and perhaps even “copy” for their own teaching files.

In fact, that CAP Futurescape talk led to the concept of trademarking the term “Pathology 2.0” which includes, but is not limited to the “Development and dissemination of educational materials of others in the field of digital pathology”.

Lastly, while arguably, the images and case metadata are not “vetted” or “peer-reviewed” as they would be for a journal manuscript or case report, I do think that academic departments of pathology and laboratory medicine will be confronted with and will have an opportunity to reward these efforts amongst their faculty.  While they may not carry as many “points” or “credits” per se as a case report, or poster at a meeting, I think this kind of work will be recognized for frequent contributors that share images and information in the spirit of education and collaboration while being mindful of patient’s right to privacy and anonymity.

Download AMA Journal Of Ethics Article

Pathology 2.0 Links

Manifest Destiny – Pathology 2.0 is Here, and It’s Clear, Time to Climb Aboard

Social Media and Its Impact on Pathology

Should Pathology Get More Social?

Introducing “Pathology 2.0” as a Transformational Factor in Surgical Pathology

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