Attack of the Selfies

The other day I was sitting in my physician’s waiting room, when I noticed a young lady taking pictures of herself (“selfies"). My doctor’s waiting room is for the entire clinic, including the behavioral health services. Since the topic of stigma is so often broached in the psychological field, I got to thinking about how I would feel if I were a patient here to see a therapist, instead of my general doctor. What if I didn’t want anyone to know that I was here? What if I accidentally ended up in the selfies she posts on Facebook or Twitter? What if someone recognized me? Maybe I’m using the civilian health care services to avoid the military health care services – what if one of the girl’s Facebook friend is in my unit? How would I feel if I was already feeling stigma about seeing a mental health professional? I could see this spiraling into increased stigma, and the possibility of this fear keeping the service member from seeking treatment.

So then I got to thinking about how to approach this from a health care professional standpoint. How would I go about talking to my patients about personal technology and patient privacy? I was thinking, maybe a sign posted stating “no photos or cameras allowed” would work, but would that just increase the stigma about seeking treatment from a medical office? I could see a potential patient reading this sign and wondering why something like that would need to be posted. Was there something inappropriate going on here? Maybe the best way to bring this up would be to have forms that all patients signed during their first visit, stating that they wouldn’t take photos in the clinic. But who really reads those forms, except maybe the patient who is most concerned about being stigmatized, and would that lead to the same fears that signs could possibly produce? Another tactic could be to make sure that the office staff had appropriate training in how to address a patient who wanted to take selfies in the waiting room; possibly quietly approaching the patient and discussing the reasons why something like that is inconsiderate of the other patients.

Although there is no perfect answer or one best solution, this is something that health care professionals need to take the time out to think about. We’re in a world where smartphone apps can take up to 80 photos per second, and the majority of digital photos taken will end up online (either on social media or in the cloud), and as they say,  once on the Internet, always on the Internet. Issues of patient privacy need to be addressed at a level that we professionals haven’t had to manage before.

So what do you think would be the best solution? Signs? Forms? Trained staff? A better solution?

Jae Osenbach, Ph.D. is a research psychologist and subject matter expert with the Mobile Health Program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Read other posts by Dr. Jae Osenbach