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Home E-Weekly September 26, 2017

Hospital in Hot Water After Staff Snap Pics of Patient's Penis

Published: September 25, 2017

IMAGE PROBLEM Staff and physicians shared pictures with colleagues and family members.

Members of the medical staff were practically standing on top of each other in the OR to take cellphone pictures and videos of an unidentified foreign object that was stuck in the patient's penis. The scene, which reminded one staff member of a cheerleader pyramid, has officials at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Bedford Memorial hospital in Everett, Pa., responding to accusations that it failed to protect the patient's personal privacy, dignity and respect.

The patient went to the hospital on Dec. 23, 2016, for emergency treatment of the unusual injury. A few weeks later, when a hospital employee complained that staff members were circulating pictures of the unconscious patient, the hospital notified the state health department, which launched an investigation of the incident.

Multiple staff members allegedly lined up at the OR door to take pictures. Some who were present described the scene as chaotic and said there were "a ton" of people in the room. The crowd reportedly stayed until the surgeon said, "'That's enough, we have to get going.'"

The reasons physicians and staff members gave for rushing to the OR with cell phones at the ready ranged from professional interest to unprofessional gawking. A physician told investigators that he planned to show the pictures captured on his cellphone during medical education lectures and claimed the camera in the OR intended for that purpose was not working. Investigators discovered the camera did in fact work, but was complicated to use. A surgeon, upon finishing a tendon repair in another OR, rushed to watch the removal of the foreign object out of "shear curiosity." The physician admitted to taking pictures of the procedure and sharing them with a spouse.

UPMC Bedford responded to the allegations by reminding staff about appropriate traffic control in the OR, requiring the entire staff to attend a meeting on patient privacy and confidentially issues, disciplining an undisclosed number of staff members and hiring a new surgical services director. The hospital also suspended 2 physicians and required them to undergo continuing education training related to HIPAA, patient privacy and medical ethics.

The hospital released a prepared statement. "UPMC is committed to ensuring that our patients' health information remains confidential. The behavior reported in this case is abhorrent and violates the mission of UPMC Bedford and the overall values of UPMC. Upon discovery, UPMC quickly self-reported the incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and took appropriate disciplinary action with the individuals involved. The Department of Health has approved our plan of correction. We have also alerted the affected patient. Since this is an ongoing investigation, we are not at liberty to comment further at this time."

Daniel Cook

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