New York City – Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York agreed to pay a $2.2 million penalty to regulators for letting television crews film two patients without prior authorization. Federal regulators said on Thursday that a medical professional asked them to stop, but the hospital still allowed the filming to continue, according to The New York Times. One of the patients was in significant distress and the other was dying.

This case could have an important impact nationwide and is likely to represent the end of popular TV shows in which traumas and emergencies are captured in progress, seeking consent from patients only afterward and in some cases the programs are released without getting permission.

The Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York has to pay a $2.2 million fine after a TV crew filmed two patients without their consent. Credit: Cornell Cardiology

A crew from the ABC show NY Med, a reality series in which Dr. Mehmet Oz appears, filmed as doctors tried to save the life of Mark Chanko, who was hit by a garbage truck in 2011. Unfortunately, the patient died and his widow, Anita, recognized him as she was watching the program the next year, even though Chanko’s voice was muffled and his face was blurred.

Kenneth, Mr. Chanko’s son, filed a complaint in January 2013 but it wasn’t until now that the case was resolved. ProPublica, in collaboration with The New York Times, chronicled the family’s story last year. Kenneth said he and his family were grateful and relieved to hear the news and hoped this case would have a national impact on health care providers.

“This case sends an important message that O.C.R. will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization,” Jocelyn Samuels, director of the Office for Civil Rights (O.C.R.) with the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

The office said in an online post that it is not enough for a hospital to require media personnel to mask patient’s identities by using pixelation, blurring, voice alteration software and other techniques, as long as long as a permission has not been obtained.

The hospital’s reaction

The post reads that New-York Presbyterian did not acknowledge wrongdoing or that it violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (Hipaa), a federal patient privacy law which states it is forbidden to allow media access to patient’s health information without prior consent.

The hospital claimed it allowed media personnel to film with the purpose of educating the public on the complexities of medical care and the hard work medical professionals embrace every day to save patients’ lives. It added that the program helped raise public awareness regarding important health issues such as donation and organ transplantation.

New-York Presbyterian still agreed to pay the fine and update its privacy policies, as well as to provide extra training to staff. The government is expected to monitor these measures for the next two years.

Source: New York Times