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Position Statement: Humanitarian Photography

Position Statement: Humanitarian Photography

The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery recognizes that photodocumentation of patients and procedures during humanitarian efforts is critical for record-keeping, scholarship, and fund-raising. However, the AAO-HNS also recognizes that the threat to patient privacy by the online publication of such photographs has become more imminent as access to Internet services continues to increase internationally, including in developing countries. It is the stance of the AAO-HNS that patients treated during global humanitarian outreach/medical mission efforts should be afforded the same human-subjects protection that applies in developing nations, in the recipient-specific hosting nation, or in the nation represented by the visiting medical professionals.

Where possible, the medical professional or responsible organization should obtain consent (in a patient’s own language) to photograph patients or to use identifiable patient photographs. This consent should specify the intended uses of the images, including but not limited to presentation at medical meetings, publication in journals, inclusion in fund-raising activities, and posting to social media sites. Medical treatment should not be predicated on the patient’s giving consent for photographs.

Adopted 9/20/2014


  1. Glickman SW, et al. Ethical and scientific implications of the globalization of clinical research. NEJM 2009;360:816-823
  3. Holt GR. Ethical conduct of humanitarian medical missions: II. Use of photographic images. Arch Facial Plast Surg 2012;14:295-296
  4. Devon KM. Status update: whose photo is that? JAMA 2013;309:1901-1902
  5. Thompson LA, et al. Protected Health Information on social networking sites: ethical and legal considerations. J Med Internet Res 2011;13:e8

Important Disclaimer Notice (Updated 7/31/14)
Position statements are approved by the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery or Foundation (AAO-HNS/F) Boards of Directors and are typically generated from AAO-HNS/F committees. Once approved by the Academy or Foundation Board of Directors, they become official position statements and are added to the existing position statement library. In no sense do they represent a standard of care. The applicability of position statements, as guidance for a procedure, must be determined by the responsible physician in light of all the circumstances presented by the individual patient. Adherence to these clinical position statements will not ensure successful treatment in every situation. As with all AAO-HNS/F guidance, this position statement should not be deemed inclusive of all proper treatment decisions or methods of care, nor exclusive of other treatment decisions or methods of care reasonably directed to obtaining the same results. Position statements are not intended to and should not be treated as legal, medical, or business advice.

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