The early days of telemedicine and telehealth brought extensive discussion about images. When we started working with nurse practioners in school-based health setting, most people hadn't used a digital camera, much less thought about diagnosing something through a digital image.
To be fair, the quality of those early images was so dramatically far from the images we have now that some discussion was certainly justified. But most discussion was simply based on fear and knee-jerk reactions.
Even today, though, there are concerns about the quality of photos. As this study puts it, "Smartphone cameras are rapidly being introduced in medical practice, among other devices for image-based teleconsultation. Little is known, however, about the actual quality of the images taken."
The results of that study were clear, though.Three different platforms (Apple, Blackberry, Android) were compared to a Canon professional its a 35 mm lens. Assessment was by lay people and common pictures, thus reducing clinical bias. The iPhone exceeded the function of the professional camera. And when comparing digital cameras to in-person appearance, two conclusions were drawn:
- The camera did just as well as viewing with the naked eye; or,
- The camera was superior.
It's not hard to think about why this might be when you remember trying to see something in a squirming child or fidgety elder, for example. It is easier to have the subject “hold still” with a 1/100th of a second exposure and quiet unhurried study than struggling to pinpoint a small rash on a moving target.
Many studies documented the equivalency or superiority of digital images in the five years before and after the turn of the century. The obvious specialties were radiology (now exclusively digital), wound care, dermatology, plastic surgery and pathology.
Chase Jarvis said: “The best camera is the one with you." And we always say: The best camera is the one in your pocket. With the advent and advances of smartphones since 2010, we have made several design decisions. One of the major ones was the use of the iPhone and later, the iPad, as an input device -- for exactly this reason -- it is always with you and you already know how to use it.
Our one caveat is that you should never use the camera roll in your smartphone for medical photos. With iClickCare, the camera roll is within the application, password protected, and separate from the routine pictures of vacation and kids. And that, or something similar, is the only HIPAA secure way to take medical photos on a smartphone.
If you're using photos for medical collaboration or care coordination, you can get our ebook on medical iPhone photography here: