Photographs of Patient’s Genital Injury Shared by Hospital Staff

An review has been completed into a privacy violation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Bedford Memorial hospital, in a case which photographs and videos of a patient’s genitals were captured by hospital staff and in some cases, were shared with other people including non-hospital staff. The patient attended the hospital in late December 2017, with photos/videos shared in the weeks immediately thereafter.

The patient was taken to the hospital on December 23, 2017 after suffering a genital injury – a foreign object had been inserted into the his penis and was protruding from the end. The unusual injury attracted a lot of attention and several staff members not involved with the treatment of injury were called into the operating room to view the injury. Multiple staff members captured photographs and videos of the patient’s genitals while the patient was sedated and unaware.

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

While a breach of HIPAA appears to have occurred, the investigation only confirmed violations of the Social Security Act had taken place. 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 found: 482.13 – Patient rights; 482.22(c) Medical Staff Bylaws; 482.42 Infection Control; and 482.51 Surgical Services.

According to a statement taken from a member of staff who was questioned, a request was made for photographs to be captured of the patient’s injury for use in future medical lectures. That individual stated, “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 remarked, “At one point when I looked up, there were so many people it looked like a cheerleader type pyramid.”

The story was initially reported on Pennlive, which received an emailed statement from UPMC which said, “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 action taken included suspensions and firings of staff who were found to have violated the patient’s privacy. The patient, who was not named, has also been informed of the privacy breach.