Online Medical and Surgical Slide Shows

October 22, 2009
Lisa Schulmeister

Great for healthcare providers, but bad for patients?

Several Internet sites now have slide shows or video footage of common medical and surgical procedures (including some complex surgical procedures). The intent is to show what happens during these procedures. Visual images are far superior to printed words for this sort of thing, so it's not surprising that online video and slide shows have taken off. Since many are posted on sites that are clearly directed to healthcare professionals, it's assumed that healthcare professionals would be the ones looking at these videos and slide shows. However, because access is not restricted and anyone with an Internet connection can access them, many patients find their way to these sites.

One patient scheduled for a breast reconstruction procedure following surgery for breast cancer told me that she found a slide show on breast reconstruction and was horrified to see the amount of skin stretching and blood loss. She immediately began to reconsider her planned surgery and vowed to never look at "such a thing" ever again. She described the site she found as a "Pandora's box" and said that patients need to warned about the sites that contain graphic medical images.

On the other hand, medical and surgical slide shows and video may be helpful to some patients, depending on the patient's situation. A friend of mine says she cured herself of dizziness simply by following some repositioning exercises that appeared on a film posted on the Web.

The bottom line seems to be that online medical footage is a "buyer beware" situation. Helpful for some, and distressing for others.