Doctors in a hospital in the US had recently been suspended after taking photos of a patient’s genital injury. The patient, who was under anaesthesia inside the operating room at the time of incident, had needed surgery to remove an unnamed “foreign body”.

The photos were very soon circulated among the staff in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre’s (UPMC) Bedford Memorial Hospital. Until one conscientious employee brought this matter to the attention of hospital administrators.

Corrective action was swiftly taken by the hospital, which also self-reported the incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The health department then carried out investigation, in which it was discovered that the photos were taken using personal mobile phones. Initially, it was thought that only one photo was taken, but further investigation revealed that it went beyond just one.

According to one employee who was involved, a doctor had requested for a photo to be taken using an operating room camera so that it can be used for future medical lectures. The employee said that this particular camera was broken, thus personal phones were used instead. However, the investigation determined that the operating room camera was indeed functional, although it was found to be too complicated to be used.

Another employee also said that there were so many people at that point of time, that the “crowd” scenario was described as forming a cheerleader-kind of pyramid.

Immediate disciplinary action taken, reminders to all staff hospital-wide

One doctor was suspended for seven days and was ordered to attend six hours of training on medical ethics and patient privacy. Another doctor, who was not involved in the patient’s care, was suspended for 28 days and was ordered to undertake 18 hours of similar training.

All staff were also given reminders on the hospital’s policies. Surgical staff specifically, had to undergo a meeting on privacy and confidentiality. A number of unidentified staff also had notations made in their files.

On top of all this, the hospital also appointed a new nursing director of surgical services.

The Department of Health said it approved of the corrective measures taken by the hospital. It cited UPMC for failing to protect the patient’s confidentiality. The UPMC had also allowed staff not involved in the patient’s care in the operating room and allowed staff to use personal devices to take photos of the patient.

The patient involved had been notified, although there is no mention in media reports as to whether he will be taking any legal action.

Buzz-worthy: Anything that sparks interest could spread like wildfire with today’s tech devices

Professionalism needs to be upheld in the workplace, especially in healthcare, where patients entrust us with confidentiality and privacy. With the advent of today’s technology, snapping photos and sharing them with others is simply effortless and rampant.

However, unauthorised photo-taking, regardless of the intention, evades the privacy of others and can lead to dire consequences. There are policies to follow to safeguard both patients and staff, so that such photos will not be misused when they land in the hands of others. MIMS

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