Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital faces scrutiny for secretly recording patients: Prevent similar issues

While it’s important to prevent theft in hospitals, it’s also just as important to protect patients’ privacy while doing so. One facility’s attempt to stop a thief using hidden cameras in the operating room has now landed it in hot water. 

Camera surveillance is a common way to fight against theft in retail establishments, but putting cameras in hospitals can create significant legal issues – especially if patients don’t know they’re being filmed while they’re receiving treatment.

At Sharp Grossmont Hospital in California, medications were going missing from operating rooms in its women’s health center, where women underwent C-sections, hysterectomies and other reproductive surgeries, according to an article in the Washington Post.

To catch the thief, the facility installed monitors with motion-sensing cameras in three ORs. The cameras were only supposed to capture video of the area just surrounding the anesthesia carts. However, the cameras also recorded patients during their procedures, along with other clinical staff.

Women were inadvertently filmed in vulnerable positions – in some cases, unconscious and partially undressed during surgery. Occasionally, their faces and genital areas were visible. Even worse, the images were stored on computers that could be accessed by anyone on staff without requiring a user name or password.

Not surprisingly, once the nature of this violation came to light, 81 female patients brought a class action lawsuit against Sharp Grossmont, alleging a severe breach of privacy since they were recorded without their knowledge.

In response, the hospital said patients consented to being recorded when they signed a generic patient admissions agreement before surgery, citing the need to record the area surrounding the carts as a “patient safety” issue, per an article from NBC San Diego.

Through an additional statement, the facility said that it regretted “that our efforts to ensure medication security may have caused any distress to those we serve.”

Implications for hospitals

Privacy experts are saying Sharp Grossmont overstepped its boundaries and significantly compromised patients’ right to privacy with these secret recordings. The hospital may even have a HIPAA-related situation on its hands, depending on what the feds decide. But however the case is resolved, it’s likely going to be a costly hassle.

It’s in a hospital’s best interest to avoid this situation if at all possible. There are better ways to stop theft that don’t involve secretly recording patients, including more closely monitoring the flow of drugs starting at the beginning of the supply chain.

If patients are going to be recorded at your facility, for any reason, it’s key to get their express permission before turning on the camera. Include specific language letting them know they’re being recorded in any consent forms they sign. In addition, hospitals should take the appropriate steps to protect patients’ identities and keep images or videos secure.

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