I've been inspired by Newham University Hospital's library blog (plus some I use for fun, at home) to add some pictures here. I'm using Flickr pictures that are under creative commons licences.
Pictures are useful, especially when trying to explain something to someone. However, most pictures are copyrighted - that is, they belong to someone. When I look at patient leaflets - a panel of us in the Trust vets all leaflets - one of the comments I am most likely to make is "who holds the copyright on this picture?"
As a rule of thumb unless you have drawn the picture yourself it does not belong to you. Writing "copyright" under the picture doesn't help. You must seek permission from the copyright holder to reproduce the picture. Don't forget that an organisation might have spent a lot of money employing someone to draw up that lovely set of diagrams and when you put those pictures on your own leaflet you are stealing them.
Many health organisations in practice do seem happy to share their pictures, so do please ask them. Make sure you get their permission in writing and keep a copy of it. There are various sources of pictures that are copyright free, although photos are easier to find than health related diagrams and drawings. Alternatively, why not get a pencil and piece of paper out and sketch something yourself.
Sometimes I find leaflets that have lifted text as well as pictures, which is plagiarism. If the leaflet you find on a website says everything you want to tell your patient then rather than typing it out again, tweaking the wording a little and sticking your name at the bottom, consider this. Do you need a leaflet at all? Can you not just tell your patient where to find a copy of the existing leaflet? You may be able to print the relevant leaflet from a website, or you may need to ring and ask for a paper copy.