Safety

Woman posing as doctor-in-training infiltrates five ORs

Hospital Safety Insider, February 9, 2017

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Cheryl Wang walked, talked, and dressed the part of a doctor-in-training when she gained access late last year to five operating rooms (OR) and other restricted areas of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. But the 42-year-old’s performance was a ruse.

Wang had been dismissed from her surgical residency program in New York City, but she managed to observe surgeries at Brigham, make patient rounds, pose questions during a lecture, and even assist in transporting a patient to recovery—all without an identification badge, as The Boston Globe reported. The case highlights the fact that maintaining hospital security requires vigilance not from just a few team members but from the entire staff.

“This individual looked and acted like she belonged in our institution. She was wearing our scrubs, knew her way around, understood the hospital culture and terminology, and was familiar with people’s names,” hospital spokesperson Erin McDonough told the Globe in a written statement. “Because of this, we let our guard down.”

Brigham staff are required to scan their ID badges to access the ORs, as is common for hospitals around the country. But when staff members enter and exit in groups, especially during shift changes, there is often a security vulnerability known as “tailgating”—essentially one staffer holding the door for the next. That’s how Wang gained entry without a badge of her own, by blending in with authorized personnel.

Martin Green, president of the International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety, said it is quite difficult to prevent tailgating, but hospitals should consider additional security measures beyond the “best practices” of key-card access and security cameras at OR entry points. 

Hospitals could install turnstiles, biometric scanners, or a security checkpoint staffed with a receptionist or guard. These options can be pricey. But hospitals need to find some way to restrict access by imposing concentric perimeters within their facilities, Green said.

“You need to treat security like an onion,” Green told the Globe. “When you get to the inner shells, it becomes more difficult to get there.”

Wang had familiarized herself with the Brigham facilities in September, when she was granted permission to shadow a doctor there, after forging letters recommending her for the opportunity. After the forgery and Wang’s unauthorized access in December, Brigham beefed up its policies to require that physicians who sponsor student visitors verify that they are in good standing with their educational institutions.



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