Hospital Staff Who Shared Photos of a Patient’s Injuries Guilty of Privacy Violations

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Bedford Memorial hospital has announced that an incident occurred at the facility which was in violation of HIPAA legislation. The incident, in which photographs and videos of a patient’s genitals were taken by hospital staff, occurred in late December 2016. This media was shared with other individuals, including those who did not work at the facility, over the next few weeks into early 2017.

The patient was admitted to the hospital on December 23, 2016 with a genital injury; a foreign object had been inserted into the patient’s penis and was protruding from the end. Due to the unusual nature of the injury, it piqued the interest of hospital staff. Several staff members not involved with the treatment of the patient were called into the operating room to view the injury. Multiple staff members took photographs and videos of the patient’s genital. The patient was sedated and unconscious during the entire incident.

The privacy breach was reported by one hospital employee who alleged images/videos were being shared with other staff members not involved in the treatment of the patient. The complaint was investigated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services on May 23, 2017.

An investigation was launched into the incident. The investigators have confirmed that the Social Security Act had been violated, but made no mention of HIPAA violations. According to the published report of the investigation, multiple areas of non-compliance with the Social Security Act – 42 CFR, Title 42, Part 482-Conditions of Participation for Hospitals were discovered: 482.13 – Patient rights; 482.22(c) Medical Staff Bylaws; 482.42 Infection Control; and 482.51 Surgical Services.

According to a statement obtained from a member of staff who was interviewed, a request was made for photographs to be taken of the patient’s injury for use in future medical lectures. That individual said, “We have a camera in the OR 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. We also had the camera checked out, it is working, it is just too complicated to use.”
One physician said, “At one point when I looked up, there were so many people it looked like a cheerleader type pyramid.”
The story was originally reported on Pennlive, which received an emailed statement from UPMC saying, “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.”

Many of the staff who were discovered to have violated the patient’s privacy have been suspended. Those who were guilty of the most egregious privacy violations had their employment contracts with the hospital terminated. The patient, who was not identified, has also been informed of the privacy breach.