Providers may unknowingly be posting patient PHI from medical images online, ACR warns  

New search engine capabilities on Google, Bing and other vendors may expose identifying patient information from slide presentations published online, according to the American College of Radiology.

In an Aug. 20 notice published to its website, the ACR, Radiological Society of North America and Society of Imaging Informatics in Medicine urged radiologists and other medical professionals to follow new guidance to ensure no protected health information is included in slide presentations.

Search engines such as Google and Bing can now extract large-scale information from previously stored files, including source images contained in PowerPoint presentations and Adobe PDF files. An image that has embedded patient information can be indexed by this process, meaning that when explicit patient information is associated with images in the search engine database, the identifying information can be linked to subsequent internet searches on the patient's personal information.

To avoid exposing patient PHI online, medical professionals should only include images without identifying information in presentations, disable patient information overlays or use an anonymization algorithm to prevent PHI exposure.

"Simply cropping out PHI with the image formatting tools available in presentation software [such as PowerPoint, Google Sides, etc.] does NOT permanently remove the PHI," the notice states. "Placing 'black bars' or similar visual aids to obscure PHI within the presentation software also does not represent a safe and compliant practice for de-identification."

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