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Unauthorized video surveillance may lead to HIPAA violation

HCPRO Website, June 3, 2016

A California hospital may have violated HIPAA when it released video surveillance footage to an attorney. Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa installed hidden surveillance cameras in operating rooms at the hospital’s Women’s Health Center in 2012 and ended the surveillance in 2013, KPBS reported. Clinical staff and patients were not informed that surveillance cameras were installed. The cameras were installed in an effort to identify the source of missing drugs, including the sedative propofel. The cameras also captured footage of women undergoing surgical procedures.

The hospital alleges the surveillance videos show anesthesiologist Adam Dorin removing vials of propofel from anesthesia carts and placing them in his pocket. The hospital’s medical review board suspended Dorin in April 2013. The board revoked the suspension the next day when it received information that, due to a shortage of propofel, anesthesiologists at the hospital often carried the drug with them to prepare for emergency use and sometimes transferred propofel to departments that ran out. The hospital’s medical executive committee formally admonished Dorin but took no measures to curtail his privileges. Dorin resigned later that year and accepted a position at another hospital.

Sharp Grossmont took no further action against Dorin until the hospital’s former senior vice president and CEO Michele Tarbet sent a letter to the state medical board informing them of his temporary suspension and formal admonishment. The letter was sent two weeks after his resignation and prompted the state medical board to launch an investigation. Sharp Grossmont provided the medical board with clips from the surveillance cameras that it said did not show any patients. However, when Dorin’s attorney, Duane Admire, viewed what he was told were same clips, he reported that they clearly show women undergoing abdominal and vaginal surgeries. The hospital provided Admire with a total of 77 clips. Multiple women may be visible in each clip.

The hospital reported the breach to the state department of public health and planned to report it to HHS, according to statements obtained by KPBS.

Sharp Grossmont includes broad language in its admission agreement granting it the right to film or photograph patients for medical, research, or safety purposes. However, that consent does not waive an individual’s right to protection under HIPAA and some attorneys believe the language in the admission agreement would not hold up in court.

The admission agreement may soon be put to the test. On May 24, a class action lawsuit was filed against the hospital by a patient who received treatment during the surveillance period. The lawsuit seeks damages for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of confidentiality, and unlawful recording of confidential information, among other claims.