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Getting My Photo Taken at a Medical Appointment

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This post originally appeared on Elaine's blog, Medical Lessons.

A funny thing hap­pened at my doctor’s appointment on Friday. I checked in, and after con­firming that my address and insurance hadn’t changed since last year, waited for approx­i­mately 10 minutes. A worker of some sort, likely a med-tech, called me to “take my vitals.”

She took my blood pressure with a cuff that made my germ-phobic self run for self-regulation, i.e. I stayed quiet and didn’t express my concern about the fact that it looked like it hadn’t been washed in years. I value this doctor among others in my care, and I didn’t want to com­plain about any­thing. Then the woman took my weight. And then she asked if she could take my picture, “for the hos­pital record.”

I couldn’t contain my won­dering self. “What is the purpose of the picture?” I asked.

“It’s for the record,” she explained. “For security.”

I thought about it. My picture is pretty much public domain at this point in my life, a decision I made upon deciding not to blog anony­mously. Besides, most everyone at the medical center used to know me, including the recep­tionists, jan­itors, cafe­teria cashiers, nurses’ aides, social workers, deans, full pro­fessors, geneti­cists, fellows in surgery and old-time vol­untary physi­cians, among others who work there. So why didn’t I want this uniden­tified woman who works in my oncologist’s office to take my picture?

It made me uncom­fortable, and here’s the reason: My picture is a reminder that, without it, I might be like any other patient in the system. They (admin­is­trators?, nurses, other docs, maybe even my future doctors) will need or want the picture to recall and be certain who Elaine Schattner is.

Don’t get me wrong. I agreed to the photo after all of maybe 20 seconds delib­er­ating. (And my doctor was, I soon learned, duly informed I’d “had an issue” with it. Was that for just asking the reason?) The uniden­tified med-tech person used an oddly small, ordinary pink camera to com­plete her task.

When I met with my doctor, she explained that the photo is for security and, essen­tially, to reduce the like­lihood of errors. The hos­pital has records of so many thou­sands of patients, many who have similar or iden­tical names. There are good reasons to make sure that your notes on “Sally Smith” are entered into the chart of “Sally Smith” who is your patient.

It’s under­standable. I remember when at the nurses’ station there’d be a sign (on “our” side) saying some­thing like “CAREFUL: Anna Gon­zalez in 202, Alma Gon­zalez in 204b,” or some­thing like that.

Patients blur.

It’s hard, ver­i­tably impos­sible, for most doctors and nurses to keep mental track of all of the patients they’ve ever seen and examined. There’s utility in the new system. Yes, it’s a good idea for a doctor, say upon receiving a call from a woman she hasn’t seen in 3 or 6 or 9 years, to see her picture in the chart, as a reminder.

But I hope my doctors know who I am, and not just what I look like in the image.

More Blog Posts by Elaine Schattner

author bio

Elaine Schattner, M.D., is a trained oncol­ogist, hema­tol­ogist, edu­cator and jour­nalist who writes about med­icine. Her views on health care are informed by her expe­ri­ences as a patient with sco­l­iosis since childhood and other con­di­tions including breast cancer. She is a Clinical Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Med­icine at Weill Cornell Medical College, where she teaches part-time. She holds an active New York State medical license and is board-certified in the Internal Med­icine sub­spe­cialties of Hema­tology (blood dis­eases) and Oncology (cancer medicine). She writes regularly on her blog, Medical Lessons. You can follower her on Twitter @ElaineSchattner.


Tags for this article:
Medical/Hospital Practice   Communicate with your Doctors   Inside Healthcare  


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Cindi Gatton says
April 28, 2013 at 7:18 PM

I appreciate a physician commenting on this. During a recent conversation with a physician in private practice I was told this practice was also a way in an area where many patients may not have a driver's license or picture ID to validate that the person presenting an insurance card was the actual patient presenting for services.