A Sydney hospital has banned its surgeons from using Snapchat during surgical procedures, due to fears they could be sued by patients over privacy or negligence issues.
The app has become a popular marketing tool for plastic and cosmetic surgeons, allowing them to show potential patients what really goes on inside the operating theatre.
The world’s most famous “Snapchat surgeon,” Michael “Dr Miami” Salzhauer, claims millions of viewers have tuned into broadcasts of his breast augmentations, tummy tucks and Brazilian butt lifts.
His Australian equivalent, Double Bay surgeon Kourosh Tavakoli, says his target market of 18 to 28-year-old women like to watch procedures and look at before-and-after photos on his Snapchat, before committing to undergoing treatment themselves.
But Sydney plastic surgeon Laith Barnouti from Westmead Private Hospital, which this week banned the popular app, said the risk to both patients and surgeons was too high.
He claims an Australian hospital and one of its surgeons are being taken to court by a former patient over privacy concerns involving the app.
“There are privacy issues, because even if the patients does consent to being filmed beforehand, which doesn’t always happen, they can’t approve every live video that’s being sent,” Dr Barnouti told news.com.au.
“Even if the patient consented for their photo to be taken, they might not consent for their pubic hair or their genitalia or their nipples or their face to be in it. They probably didn’t know their whole face would be shown."
“Also patient safety is compromised because the surgeons are distracted. it’s not always the support staff filming. I know at least five surgeons who do it themselves.”
Dr Barnouti says there should be a national ban on any live marketing tool that could “affect the progress of any surgery and compromise the safety of patients.”
“It will become more widespread unless the medical board takes action. It’s only a matter of time before other hospitals will follow,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Royal Australian College of Surgeons said the industry body recommends its members refrain from “posting images (whether identifiable or not) or information” about patients, as well as posting comments or information which “may breach any obligations to their employers.”
Using Snapchat at all during any medical procedure is a bad idea, says NSW president of the Australian Medical Association, Professor Brad Frankum.
“There are ways of creating educational images for patients that don’t involve live streaming potentially vulnerable individuals,” Professor Frankum said.
“The whole consent issue is quite vexed. People sometimes feel they’re consenting to one thing and it turns out to be something else.”
He said patients might also feel pressured to appear on a surgeon’s Snapchat.
“The power relationship between the surgeon and the patient is very unique,” Professor Frankum said.
“If the surgeon says ‘This will be good, and you don’t mind if I live stream it?’ a patient might feel a bit of an obligation to say yes, or if they don’t agree, that they won’t get the same level of care and attention that they would otherwise."
"You have to be careful with any form of intimate procedure that is being put out there on the internet. Some of the examples I’ve heard involving breast augmentations or and genital surgeries are very close to exploitation.”