Patient confidentiality is a critical business practice for any doctor, and when it comes to plastic surgery, patients are often at their most vulnerable, experiencing a major change to correct a feature or physical deformity they dislike, so privacy can never be overlooked. So, when news surfaced this week that a California woman’s privacy had been betrayed, it struck a nerve within the aesthetic community.
The case began in 2013 when this woman visited a plastic surgeon for a procedure (it has not been revealed exactly which one), in which she gave her surgeon consent to photograph her nude torso (including her breasts) before and after her operation to be used for anonymous promotion (both the woman and the surgeon in the case have yet to be named).
This is common practice for plastic surgeons, as before-and-after images are a critical selling point because they showcase the doctor’s work. For patients, it helps them visualize the types of results a doctor is capable of achieving for a range of procedures. The photos are typically shared within the doctor’s office, being shown to potential patients, but with the rise of internet searches on plastic surgery procedures, many doctors are also using these photos as promotional material on their websites.
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Five months after this woman’s surgery, she says a man she had met found the naked pictures of her by running a quick Google search of her name. As a result, the woman sued her plastic surgeon for $300,000 in damages, saying she was “negligent and violated her duty to keep a patient’s medical information confidential.” But, as The Fresno Bee reports, she was only awarded $18,000 (a Fresno County Superior Court jury made the ruling this week; commenters on social media are saying she deserved much more).
The surgeon’s lawyer told the jury the photos were mistakenly put on the Internet and were taken down within a few days. However, as we’ve all heard before, “once it’s on the Internet, it exists forever.”
New York plastic surgeon Kevin Tehrani, MD, says this is an unfortunate case, and his practice, along with most other reputable offices, have standards in place to make sure patients sign proper paperwork regarding their before-and-after images. “Patients know we anonymously post before-and-after pictures and where it will be shared, whether it’s social media, a website or print,” he explains. “Regardless, there is never association of the person’s name or any identifying patient information to the outside source. As a matter fact, we typically even cover any potential identifying elements like tattoos or jewelry. The key word is anonymous. Patient privacy is critical.”
Newport Beach, CA, plastic surgeon Sanjay Grover, MD, adds, “It is very standard for a plastic surgeon to take before-and-after photographs of their cosmetic surgery patients in order to document their appearance in the medical record. Most plastic surgeons will not operate on a patient if a patient refuses this. It is not uncommon for a plastic surgeon to also request their patient to consent to allow the surgeon to use their photographs for other purposes as well, including for their website, social media or advertisements, as long as one’s name is not revealed. Patients have the opportunity to consent to this or to refuse this, usually at their preoperative appointment. In general, plastic surgeons will make every effort to ensure this, as one’s consent is required.”
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