SINGAPORE - Plastic surgeons interviewed by The Straits Times (ST) say that taking photographs before and after aesthetic procedures is a "standard practice" and an essential part of medical documentation.
According the the surgeons, it is best the patients be unclad if the area to be operated on is located near the private parts, as the adjacent areas may be affected by the procedure.
The comments follow the recent settlement reached for a lawsuit filed by a teenager against well-known plastic surgeon Martin Huang. She sued him for the emotional distress she suffered from having photographs taken of her in the nude.
The 17-year-old girl had gone to Dr Huang to have a scar on her upper thigh removed. She was told to remove her bra, which she was allowed to put back on after she protested. However, her underwear was later taken off by a nurse when pictures were taken of her thigh.
The case is the first civil suit of its kind where a doctor is hauled to court for taking such pictures of a patient.
Dr Huang has maintained that he has done no wrongdoing, as taking photos before an aesthetic procedure is a standard practice that has been confirmed by eminent plastic surgeons from both the private and public sectors.
Dr Woffles Wu, a noted plastic surgeon from Camden Medical Centre, said such photos are for the doctor's legal protection, as they need the pictures to provide hard proof against complaints.
He said he would have taken the pictures of the patient without underwear, as Dr Huang had, if he had been in the same situation.
This is following guidelines set out by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
The photos are needed to determine whether the procedure has improved the condition and by how much, said plastic surgeon J.J. Chua, who runs a private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
The 'before' pictures may also be needed for insurance claims, he told ST.
Dr Tan Ying Chen, consultant plastic surgeon at The Sloane Clinic Plastic Surgery Centre told ST that the photos may also be required to plan for surgery, as surgeries are often not done immediately and the photos are needed to refresh the doctor's memory.
If patients refuse to have such photos taken, they are likely to be turned away, said the surgeons, as they can get into trouble if the patient makes unreasonable complaints about the results of the procedures.
The photo-taking process is done in a very professional manner and the photos are for medical reasons, Dr Chua stressed.
If photos of the body are taken, the face will not be shown. At no point in the process do patients take their clothes off in front of him, he said.
Dr Karen Sng, president of the Singapore Society for Cosmetic (Aesthetic) Surgeons said that a male doctor will have a female nurse present to chaperone female patients.
Any image taken of a patient must be either clinically indicated or necessary for an accurate record of a diagnosis or treatment, said the Singapore Medical Council.
A professional attitude is a must, and doctors should obtain informed consent where necessary, it said.