Apology Issued by Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Filming and Sharing Videos of Obstetrics Patients

An apology has been issued by Sharp Grossmont Hospital for violating the privacy of patients by filming them undergoing surgical procedures and subsequently sharing those videos with a third party.

Videos were recorded using hidden surveillance cameras as part of a sting operation to catch a thief who was believed to be stealing narcotic drugs from anesthesia carts in the operating theater of the Women’s Health Center.

The hospital set up surveillance cameras hidden inside moveable monitors in three operating rooms at the Women’s Health Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital to obtain evidence of drug thefts from anesthesia carts.

Some of the recorded clips show an anesthesiologist taking bottles of the anesthetic propofol from the carts and placing them in his top pocket. Over the course of the surveillance operation – which took place between July 2012 and July 2013 – 12 bottles of propofol were allegedly stolen from the cart by the anesthesiologist. The video footage of the thefts was submitted to the California Medical Board as evidence.

The accused anesthesiologist’s attorney, Duane Admire, requested copies of the videos clips to review the footage. He claimed the video clips would show that the anesthetic was either used on patients or was later returned to the cart. The anesthesiologist denies any wrongdoing.

Initially the hospital claimed that the videos that were shared did not include any footage of patients. Vice President of PR and communications for Sharp Healthcare, John Cihomsky, released a statement saying “Access to the video footage was strictly limited to Sharp investigators, and the only footage sent outside of Sharp to the California Medical Board were clips that showed the medication being removed from the anesthesia cart by the doctor.”

Cihomsky went on to say that the shared clips showed medications being taken when there was no one other than the accused present in the operating room. He pointed out that “all other footage that may have captured images of patients in the background has been retained in a secure environment and following conclusion of this case, all video footage will be destroyed.”

However, a recent statement released by Sharp Grossmont Hospital says video clips were mistakenly given to Admire to allow him to review the evidentiary footage that did show patients in the operating room. In total, video footage of 14 female patients undergoing surgical procedures was accidentally shared.

When the hospital learned that the clips provided to Admire included footage of patients, a request was made for the clips to be returned. On May 10, the video files were returned to the hospital. The anesthesiologist and his attorney claim the filming of the operating rooms was a serious violation of patient privacy.

Sharp Grossmont is now in the process of reviewing the clips and is trying to identify the patients from the time and date of the videos and comparing them to surgery schedules. Once the patients have been identified they will be sent notification letters about the privacy breach. The process is expected to be completed next week.

There has already been considerable backlash following media coverage of the privacy breach, with some patients claiming they did not give their consent to be filmed. According to KPBS, which has been in contact with a number of patients of Sharp Grossmont, they were uncomfortable with being filmed without their knowledge. One patient said she felt violated when she found out that she had been filmed and the footage had been shared.

As was recently highlighted by the settlement between the Office for Civil Rights and New York Presbyterian Hospital, the sharing of videos of patients without prior authorization being obtained is a violation of HIPAA Rules.

Federal agencies have now been notified of the privacy breaches. Time will tell whether action will be taken against Sharp Grossmont for filming patients without their consent and disclosing the videos to a third party.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.