A California hospital was trying to do the right thing when it set up a video camera to catch drug diversion, but it may have ended up violating patient privacy when the cameras recorded patient care and explicit images.
Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, CA, mounted video cameras inside computer monitors attached to mobile anesthesia machines in its ORs in July 2012, in an effort to detect someone stealing sedatives from the carts, according to a statement released by the hospital. The surveillance continued for a year until administrators realized the footage included women undergoing cesarean sections. The patients did not know they were being recorded, the hospital stated.
The cameras caught an anesthesiologist putting bottles of drugs in his pockets, according to the report. The hospital suspended the anesthesiologist but lifted the suspension the next day when the anesthesiologist claimed that the sedative propofol was in short supply and physicians routinely saved bottles for emergencies, according to the hospital report.
The Medical Board of California investigated and filed a formal accusation against the anesthesiologist. When his defense attorney requested access to the hospital recordings, he received 77 and found identifiable images of women in the ORs, according to the report. The hospital reports that there are approximately 14,000 video clips in all.
The hospital issued a statement acknowledging the breach of privacy and said it intended to send only clips that did not include patients in the room. The hospital writes that it will notify patients after reviewing the clips and matching them to surgery schedules.
The California Department of Public Health released a statement saying it is investigating the incident as a possible violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.