In a scathing indictment of hospital collusion with reality television, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reached a $2.2 million settlement with New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) in New York City for what OCR says was the “egregious” disclosure of two patients’ protected health information (PHI) to film crews and staff during the filming of “NY Med,” an ABC reality show featuring real-life trauma cases at the hospital.
The two patients did not give permission for the release of PHI or filming. In particular, OCR found that NYP allowed the ABC crew to film someone who was dying and another person in significant distress, even after a medical professional urged the crew to stop. Announcing the settlement, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels said the hospital yielded too much control to the film crew and must be held responsible for the distress caused to patients and family members.
“This case sends an important message that OCR will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization,” Samuels said. “We take seriously all complaints filed by individuals, and will seek the necessary remedies to ensure that patients’ privacy is fully protected. By allowing individuals receiving urgent medical care to be filmed without their authorization by members of the media, NYP’s actions blatantly violate the HIPAA Rules, which were specifically designed to prohibit the disclosure of individual’s PHI, including images, in circumstances such as these.”
OCR also found that NYP failed to safeguard PHI and allowed ABC film crews virtually unfettered access to its healthcare facility, which effectively created an environment in which PHI could not be protected from impermissible disclosure to the ABC film crew and staff. In addition to the $2.2 million, OCR will monitor NYP for two years as part of this settlement agreement, which will help ensure that NYP will remain compliant with its HIPAA obligations while it continues to provide care for patients.
NYP came under serious criticism after the initial allegations, and in 2015, the Greater New York Hospital Association announced that emergency departments in the city would ban television crews.
The television show aired video of an 83-year-old man’s last moments after being hit by a garbage truck on April 29, 2011. The show also aired emotional conversations between his family and the treating physician. Although the patient’s face and those of his family members were blurred, his family members saw the show when it was broadcast and said they could identify him. The family contends that the man never gave permission to be recorded for broadcast, and ABC did not claim he did. As other hospitals had done with film crews, NYP had allowed ABC to record patients first and ask permission later. The American Medical Association and other professional groups have criticized that practice.
The family filed complaints with the New York State Department of Health, ABC, The Joint Commission, and OCR. A report from the state health department concluded that the hospital violated the man’s rights because he was “unaware and uninformed that he was being filmed and viewed by a camera while receiving medical treatment.”
The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan can be found on the HHS website at: http://1.usa.gov/1WJa3HG. OCR also issued a FAQ on the application of the HIPAA Rules in media access to PHI, available at the same site. (For more on the case, see “Greater New York Hospital Association says no more reality television access,” Healthcare Risk Management, September 2015, at http://bit.ly/1NtZ9DF.)