Photos of unconscious patient's genitals lead to firings and suspensions

September 23, 2017

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The Washington Post (among many other outlets) is reporting on the story of "a ton" doctors and nurses taking a photo of a patient's genitals, and the foreign object lodged there. The patient was unconscious at the time.

The incident sparked firings and suspensions of staff involved. It is, of course, a gross violation of patient privacy, and most likely HIPAA, but what is possibly more abhorrent is the volume of comments beneath the article stating that it happens all the time. Three days after the story broke, there were 550 comments on the Washington Post website. You can read about all sorts of other stories (along with many other views that highlight the diversity of humanity).

This Medscape article that sprung up in response to the story quotes Eric Cheung, an attorney with Ervin Cohen & Jessup in Beverly Hills, California. "Anecdotally, this type of information sharing about patients seems to happen quite often." He added, "it's often understandable that a physician would want to take a photo of a condition to share with a colleague or get a quick consult, especially as many camera systems and electronic medical records make it difficult to take pictures or upload them." Unfortunately, they didn't know about PicSafe.

We will be monitoring this story. With the alleged HIPAA violations, we are likely to see the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Civil Rights investigate. Doctors and hospitals, time to start using PicSafe if you want to avoid this. A little education and common sense would not go astray also.