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Important Update on the use of Mobile Phones in the Clinical Dental Setting
In this article you will find out:
The above points relate to the use of mobile phones to capture and store patient data. Use of mobile devices for other purposes is not covered.
Based on advice of one of the Dental Defence Organisations, Dentistry magazine, in July of this year published an article in which dental practices were warned against using mobile phones to capture patient data. It read that tablets, mobile devices or personal computers should never be used to capture and store patient data. It was suggested that such an approach was outdated and not in line with the General Dental Council’s Standards for Dental Professionals. The article received a large audience (just the online article alone was seen by over 19,000 users before it was amended) which may have in turn gone some way to discourage dentists from investing in the latest invention in dental photography: Smile Lite MDP set by StyleItaliano. Referred to as a ‘mini photo studio’, this clever device is equipped with three groups of independently controlled LEDs. As it is compatible with most mobile phones it can save hundreds of pounds compared to even the cheapest DSLR set.
Why are mobile phones safer and cheaper to use than DSLR kits?
In our opinion, a dedicated mobile phone, ideally with conjunction with MDP set (for better quality photographs and more professional perception by patients) is safer than DSLR cameras for the following reasons:
- both DSLR cameras and mobile phones can be lost or stolen, but with higher risk associated with DSLR kits, as they represent a much higher value and are easier to sell
- many mobile phones offer additional safety features like content encryption of the device and memory card, plus they offer access protection – DSLR cameras do not have such features
- if lost or stolen, content of most mobile phones can be remotely wiped off or located (additional apps might be required)
Please note that we recommend using a dedicated mobile phone, not a personal mobile phone. The phone should not be connected with any online storage system such as cloud, and ideally should be without a simcard (this also prolongs the battery life). With upgrades of mobile phone contracts being so frequent, you may consider using your old phone. Additionally, you could consider investing in an aftermarket phone. Refurbished Sony Xperia phones with 12 months warranty are available online for under £100. These phones have excellent cameras, over 20MP. If you currently use a DSLR camera which can be wirelessly linked with other devices and can instantly share photos, you should have this feature disabled/switched off when using in a surgery.
The GDC’s position:
General Dental Council’s Standards for Dental Professionals guidance state: “The duty to keep information confidential also covers recordings or images of patients such as photographs, videos or audio recordings, both originals and copies, including those made on a mobile phone.” Therefore, GDC do not object using the mobile devices.
Please note that we will be running hands-on lectures (10-12 participants) on records keeping and interpreting X-rays. The next one is planned for Sunday 8 Oct’17 in London. The speaker: Dr Amit Rai, General Dental Practitioner, Dental Legal Advisor, Accredited Expert Witness and former GDC Fitness to Practise Panel member. Click on the picture below for more details and to book your place.
Dental Protection / MPS:
Dental Protection has produced an article on using mobile phones in the dental setting. It is called “The device in your pocket” [Riskwise UK 52; Dental Protection; January 2017] and was written by a Dentolegal Adviser Philip Johnstone BChD MFGDP(UK) DipResDent FFGDP(UK). The article is no longer available online but we can email you a copy, or you can also ask dental protection for it.
We understand from the article that Dental Protection does not advice against the use of mobile phones dedicated for taking photographs of patients, provided that the phone is not connected with a cloud or similar sharing software. Other aspects should also be taken into consideration, but they are the same as when taking pictures using DSLR cameras. Dental Protection advises against the use of “personal” cameras and mobile phones. Therefore, you should not use your personal phone, which you use for communication purposes.
MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland):
The MDDUS’ advice is very similar to that of Dental Protection. Mobile phones dedicated for taking photographs of patients can be used, provided all other aspects (confidentiality, patient’s consent, etc.) are taken into account. It does not recommend using personal devices to record and store patient data.
We have received a detailed response, which is attributed to Aubrey Craig, MDDUS head of dental division (see below).
“MDDUS would remind dentists to consider the security of patient data and issues of confidentiality when tempted to use smartphones or tablets to deliver patient care.
It is likely that employing organisations/contracting bodies/dental practices will have IT policies that expressly forbid the use of personal devices in this way because of the very clear risk of a serious breach of confidentiality. Lost or stolen smartphones holding identifiable patient recordings or pictures are a particular hazard and the dentist concerned may be held individually responsible in the event of an accidental breach of confidentiality of this kind.
Dentists must also comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 as well as the GDC’s Standards guidance which makes it clear that you must keep patient information confidential – this includes recordings or images of patients such as photographs, videos or audio recordings, both originals and copies, including those made on a mobile phone. It goes on to state that dentists must not make any recordings or images without the patient’s permission. In addition the GDC state that when sending confidential information, a secure method should be used and if sending electronically it should be encrypted.
A dentist may feel that it would be helpful to take a photograph of a patient in the course of clinical care that could be used in discussion with colleagues or for teaching purposes.
If this situation arises in a hospital or practice setting, formal clinical photography using devices and procedures approved by the organisation is most appropriate. The use of personal devices for taking and storage of images is not recommended.
Clearly, dentists should also be mindful that consent must be obtained from patients before making recordings. Patients must be fully informed in advance about the nature of the recording and how it will be stored and used as well as with whom it will be shared, in order to provide informed consent.
It is understandable that the use of smartphones by dentists is now commonplace, with the technology providing new opportunities in terms of apps which can be used to deliver clinical guidance and information. Dentists should not, however, be tempted to use personal devices to record and store patient data.”
Additionally, there is a press release from December 2014 (aimed at doctors) which has a number of relevant points: https://www.mddus.com/about-us/media-centre/2014/december/consider-data-security-when-using-smartphones-at-work
DDU (The Dental Defence Union):
The DDU was initially against the use of mobile phones in practice. The article published in the Dentistry magazine said “Tablets, mobile devices or personal computers should never be used to capture and store patient data”. However, when we contacted them with arguments that dedicated mobile phones are actually safer than clinical cameras, they’ve change their position. The article online has now been amended and we believe that a printed article will soon be published as well.
All three major dental defence organisations do not recommend using, or advice against using personal devices to record and store patient data. Therefore, if you use a mobile phone dedicated only for the dental use (in practice or domiciliary visits), and this phone is not connected with a sharing services such as cloud, then in our view, which was confirmed by legal advisors we’ve asked, it fully complies with recommendations. Furthermore, if the mobile phone does not have an active sim card, then it simply becomes nothing more than a camera.
Please remember, that other aspects such as consent, confidentiality and data protection should be taken into account, either when using mobile phones and/or DSLR cameras.