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Saved by the selfie: pics finding place in medicine

Nurse, I have a problem. But first, let me take a selfie.

The rise in use of medical selfies to relay health information to clinicians has grabbed the attention of medical photographer and Queensland University of Technology PhD researcher Kara Burns.

Burns says her interest was piqued while she was working in hospital photography and noticed that doctors and nurses were taking clinical images on their smartphones.

"Current research suggests medical selfies could help with agenda setting during consultations and that patients may be more likely to keep up treatment plans [because of them],” she said.

She told the story of a woman who took video of her stroke symptoms and was able to get treatment after she showed doctors the vision of her slurred speech and facial paralysis. “On her first visit to the doctor, medical testing hadn't confirmed a stroke," she said.

Burns is interested in how using medical selfies affects clinical care. "Another issue I will address is whether people taking their own photos could improve the communication with their doctor,” she explains. "The medical selfie is all part of the participatory medicine revolution. In my research, it might be a diabetic who discovers a foot wound and sends a picture to their doctor. This act could be the critical factor in deciding how serious the wound is and whether it requires immediate treatment.”

She says a selfie may also offer patients the satisfaction of knowing they have a correct diagnosis if the symptoms aren’t present in the consultation.

"On a broader level, it's about trying to shift away from fixing diseases and moving towards preventing them by engaging the patient through self-monitoring technology," she says. "It's about discovering issues before they become a problem."

Burns is seeking patients, doctors and carers to participate in her research.

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