It seemed like the whole hospital was in the operating room. The crowd had gathered with smartphones in hand, snapping photos and recording video, the object of their fascination a patient’s genitals with a foreign object protrusion.
It was “a ton” of staff, to be precise, according to one staffer.
“At one point when I looked up, there were so many people it looked like a cheerleader type pyramid,” a physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Bedford Memorial hospital said, according to a report issued Wednesday by Pennsylvania’s Department of Heath and Human Services.
The serious breach of privacy for an unconscious patient has led to the suspension of one physician for 28 days, another for a week, and the ousting of the surgical services nursing director, according to the report, which followed an investigation.
The citation listed numerous violations that took place, including failure to protect a patient’s confidentiality and privacy, allowing staff not central to the patient’s care to enter the operating room and allowing them to use personal devices to take photos of the patient.
The incident occurred Dec. 23, and the following month “a hospital employee came forward to complain about photographs that were circulating around the hospital of a patient under anesthesia while in the [operating room],” according to the report.
Physicians and hospital employees who were interviewed gave various reasons for why they flocked to the operating room that day to observe the injury, which was not described in the report.
One physician claimed a need to photograph the injury for medical research purposes, the report said.
“We have a camera in the [operating room] for that purpose, but it was reportedly broken and so personal phones were used.
“Initially, we thought there was only one picture taken but later we learned of others,” the report stated.
The camera, it turned out, did work. But it was “too complicated to use,” investigators found.
One individual came for “sheer curiosity.”
“I was doing a tendon repair, when someone, I don’t remember who, one of the OR staff, came into the room and said that there was a patient in the ER with a genital injury. I thought, ‘How does this happen?’ I couldn’t imagine how the patient did it,” the individual said, referring to the injury.
The unnamed hospital employee admitted to sharing photos with a spouse.
Pennlive.com, which reported the story from a health-care privacy blog, relayed a statement from the hospital’s network that said the behavior in this case was “abhorrent” and that the patient, who was not identified in the citation, had been alerted.
The health department and the hospital could not be reached for comment.
In additional to the suspensions and firing, the hospital took further action, including a memo reminding staff about hospital policies and retraining surgical staffers in privacy and confidentiality issues.
Some hospital workers interviewed said the photos circulated beyond the staff. One staffer seemed to shrug off the issue as part of the morbid reality of surgical work.
“I received a picture text on my phone from Anesthesia, made a comment and moved on. We do pass on interesting stuff,” the report said.