The medical selfie

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 24 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3145
  1. Arunava Ray, orthopaedic registrar,
  2. Annabel Diane Scott, dermatology registrar,
  3. Dariush Nikkhah, plastic surgery registrar,
  4. Baljit S Dheansa, consultant plastic surgeon
  1. 1Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, UK
  1. arunray{at}

“Selfie,” the 2013 word of the year according to Oxford Dictionaries, denotes a photograph taken of oneself with either a smartphone or a webcam ( The latest craze of selfies among the wider population has come under some criticism, with perpetrators labelled “narcissists” or the craze seen as yet another teenage fad.1

We, unlike many of our patients, have been reticent in the uptake of rapidly evolving technology within the NHS; none more so than using “clinical photography” to aid in understanding the dynamic nature of disease processes. The camera resolution of an average smartphone far outstrips the specifications of the archaic (and elusive) emergency department camera, and yet behind the guise of data protection the attending doctor must refrain from reaching into their pocket to take a quick snap.2 Therefore, within clinical medicine the selfie should be celebrated and its full potential unlocked. Furthermore, patients’ own photographs do not fall foul of strict data protection rules that hospital acquired photographs need to follow.

In our unit, we have been encouraging patients to take their own clinical photographs or “medical selfies” to track progress or record particular concerns, ready to be reviewed at the next outpatient appointment if the patient wishes. This has been used with great effect within our practice, and is particularly useful when a dedicated medical illustration department is unavailable (such as in most general practitioner surgeries or peripheral clinics).

Several of our burns patients have now used medical selfies so that they can take “ownership” of their condition. Most such injuries are treated conservatively with regular dressing changes. There have been instances where patients are anxious that the dressings done in the community would not be applied to the same standard as those done in our unit. And it is not always feasible (given our large catchment area) for patients to attend our unit regularly to have them changed. As a result, we have started encouraging patients to take photos on their personal smartphone of the dressings being applied and the steps taken so they can then “educate” their local nursing staff. The benefits are far reaching: it ensures consistency in management, empowers the patient, and allows a degree of control after a traumatic event. It also allows the patient to track the progress of the healing burn in real time, as each dressing change presents a unique medical selfie opportunity.

We think this concept is beautifully simple. The photographs are taken by the patients and retained on their property. Patients can then choose to show them to whomever they wish, thereby avoiding any legal or ethical pitfalls.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3145


  • Ethical approval not required.


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