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Silly Surgery Photo Leads to Privacy Lawsuit

An anesthesiologist put stickers on a patient who was under anesthesia, and a photo was taken. You can guess what happened next.

Published: September 5, 2013

Let's follow the trail of boneheaded blunders that has landed a California hospital and an anesthesiologist in some seriously hot water.

  • A nurse's aide brought her cell phone into the OR. Never a good idea, especially with today's heightened concerns about privacy. (If you haven't already, you might consider banning cell phones in your ORs when you're done reading this.)
  • At the end of an hour-long finger surgery, the anesthesiologist, Patrick Yang, MD, decided to have a little sophomoric fun with the patient, who happened to be a longtime hospital supply clerk. Dr. Yang cut out and colored some stickers, which he used to decorate his still-unconscious colleague's face with, giving her a black mustache and teardrops under her left eye.
  • The nurse's aide then snapped a photo. She claims that she didn't e-mail or post the photo anywhere. She said she deleted the image after showing it to the patient, Veronica Valdez, 36.

"I thought she would think this is funny and she would appreciate it," said Dr. Yang in his deposition about the 2011 incident. Evidently, Ms. Valdez didn't much appreciate it. She filed a breach of medical privacy civil lawsuit against Torrance (Calif.) Memorial Medical Center and Dr. Yang. The privacy lawsuit has also prompted a state investigation.

"I felt violated. I was in shock," said Valdez said in court documents.

In a statement. Torrance Memorial said that this "breach of professionalism regrettably did occur" and those involved "demonstrated poor judgment" while caring for Ms. Valdez.

According to published reports, Dr. Yang was disciplined but kept his privileges at the hospital. Dr. Yang said his physician practice, Torrance Anesthesia Medical Group, suspended him for 2 weeks. The hospital disciplined the employees involved in the incident, but did not fire them.

Ms. Valdez's civil suit is scheduled for trial in January. She's seeking damages from the hospital, Dr. Yang and his medical group for violation of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and other allegations. Her attorney, Andrew T. Ryan in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times that Ms. Valdez had to leave her job because she was "ridiculed and humiliated while under anesthesia."

Dan O'Connor


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