Is there more to selfies than a duckface social media epidemic? A PhD candidate and professional medical photographer at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia believes that the smartphone is changing how patients and physicians are involved in healthcare. Kara Burns originally studied how healthcare professionals were using smartphones to document their patients’ conditions, and the consent and privacy issues involved in this practice. She noticed that patients were also taking their own pictures and bringing them to their physicians.

Burns believes that “medical selfies” would be used more widely by patients if they were aware of how they can be helpful to their doctors. She tells a story of one woman who recorded a video of her symptoms that she shared with physicians. This led to a correct diagnosis of mini-strokes that didn’t show when first went for testing. As a result, she was able to get effective treatment and avoid more severe symptoms that could have been far more expensive to treat. Burns is actively seeking patients and physicians who have used patient-provided medical selfies to diagnose or track conditions to further her research in this area.

One of the important side-effects of digital technology — including wearable Health Tech devices — is that it helps patients become more active participants in the management of their healthcare. Medical selfies aren’t a universal solution, but clearly they have a role to play in catching illness and other conditions early, and giving patients peace of mind about whether or not a symptom requires immediate treatment or not.