Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Worth a thousand words?

When I first joined the fire service, one of the things I did on scene was to take pictures.
Some of these were used on the fire company website.
Some have been used for fire investigation.
Some have been used for training.

As I became trained to do more things on scene, my ability to take pictures decreased because I was simply too busy doing other things that needed to be done, to be available to take pictures.

Back when I took a lot of pictures, I was always careful about what kinds of pictures I took. I never took a picture of a patient. Didn't take pictures of things that might cause any patient or homeowner embarrassment or grief. Any pictures that I took that showed identifying information such as license plates, I didn't publish.

Recently, the fire company, in a fit of I-don't-know-what announced a new policy regarding taking pictures.
I found this a little amusing, considering no one had taken any pictures on scene for quite some time, even though there is a company camera in one of the apparatus for just that purpose.

The policy, as I remember it (there has been no written version) is that no one is to take any pictures on any scene. Pictures are only to be taken at training, or for the purposes of a fire investigation. This is a policy recommended by "the company lawyer" for liability reasons.


So a couple of weeks after the announcement of the new policy, there we were, at an accident scene, and one of the assistant chiefs was taking pictures with his cell phone. He then asked if the company camera was available, and asked someone to use it to take pictures.

That's interesting.
Seems to be in direct violation of the company policy.

But this scene was unusual, and in my personal opinion, pictures of it would be very helpful for training purposes-and, for the most part, that is what I have always thought scene pictures were most useful FOR, so that they could be looked at later, and information gained that wasn't necessarily noticed at the time. So I heartily support the idea of pictures of this particular incident- it was unique.

At the next training, when we did a post-incident analysis of the event, the pictures taken on scene were shown. As they needed to be. And there was a big notice written on the white board in the training room, saying that these pictures were to be seen inside the fire company ONLY, not to be shared with the public. A reminder of the new policy, or at least related to it in some way, considering that it isn't, exactly, in accordance with that as-yet-unwritten policy, which didn't mention anything about sharing or not sharing pictures, but I digress...
A sensible consideration, a reminder not to be spreading the images around far and wide, if there has been a decision by the company not to do so.

Fast forward a while.
Imagine my surprise, to find out, by chance, that those very same pictures were sent to someone, who shared them with a large number of people outside the fire company.
Okay. So maybe I wasn't that surprised.
And, for the record, I think the people who saw the pictures SHOULD have seen them. That's not the issue.

The point is that it seems to me to be counterproductive to have the officers announce a new policy, not to put it into writing, and then to violate that policy themselves almost immediately, not only by taking pictures, but by sharing them around town. What was this policy about, exactly? Is it, or is it not, company policy? Is it policy for some, but not for others? Or what?

At the very least, I think the "policy" should be reconsidered- but I thought that the moment it was announced.

I have the same problem with a "no pictures" policy that I have with parts of HIPAA. Neither takes into consideration how VERY useful information can be in training.

That I am limited in how much information I can find out about a patient after they leave our care, means that I have no feedback on the care I provided. If I don't know how effective I am or am not, how can I improve the quality of the care I provide?

If we can't share pictures of unusual situations- the condition of a vehicle, the location of a patient, etc- with other EMTs in the company who weren't at an incident, how can we share what we have learned from any new experience? How can we use it to train and practice for future events?

Any thoughts on this? Does your agency have a "no pictures" policy? Do you think they should?

I know that there are places where there have been issues with people being stupid about sharing photographs that they shouldn't have shared, but I don't think prohibiting pictures at all is the solution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is a touchy subject, photography. I think photos should be taken, as a tool for education and review of a call.

But the people who have those photos should make sure they do not end up on the internet. Because once they're there, you can never take them off.