‘Corrective action’ taken after doctors posted operation photos on Instagram

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Spectrum Health says it has taken “corrective action” regarding doctors involved in posting an organ and tissue from surgery patients on Instagram. 

“We completed a thorough and detailed investigation of the situation involving inappropriate posts on an Instagram account not officially connected to Spectrum Health,” the Grand Rapids-based health system wrote in an email to Target 8.

In March, pictures of an organ and a length of fibrous tissue were posted to an Instagram page run by a group of resident physicians at Spectrum. In the images, doctors held up the items as if showing them off. The poster wrote of physicians playing “Price Is Right”-type games in the operating room to guess the weight and length of various body parts. It appeared a patient was still on the operating table when at least one of the pictures was taken. 

Target 8 recently circled back to Spectrum Health about the outcome of its internal investigation.

“Our team members are expected to follow strict guidelines regarding patient confidentiality and social media use, and this incident did not reflected those standards,” a Spectrum official wrote.

‘We considered many facts (in the investigation), including the Instagram posts and what happened leading up to and following the posts,” the official continued. “Based on what we learned, we have taken corrective action with regard to the physicians involved. Due to the nature of each individual’s involvement, we cannot comment on what action was taken with respect to each one. We followed our code of excellence and our organization policies in making these decisions.”

Spectrum said it could not provide additional specifics regarding any disciplinary action taken. 

“Since the incident, we have further strengthened our educational programs and monitoring of social media content to ensure this type of situation does not happen again,” the official said. “We deeply regret this incident occurred despite strong policies and guidelines in place.” 

Target 8 asked several additional questions, including whether it is customary to bring cameras into operating rooms, but Spectrum Health failed to address those questions in its response. 

While the pictures did not show the patients’ faces nor any identifying marks, health care attorneys expressed concern that such images could constitute a HIPAA violation if someone could deduce the patient’s identity based on the date and time of the social media post, the doctors involved and the type of operation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services specifies 18 types of Protected Health Information which health care providers are required by federal law to protect. Those items include:

  • Names
  • All geographic subdivisions smaller than a state
  • All elements of dates 
  • Telephone numbers
  • Vehicle identifiers and serial numbers, including license plate numbers
  • Fax numbers
  • Device identifiers and serial numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Web Universal Resource Locators (URLs)
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Internet Protocol (IP) addresses
  • Medical record numbers
  • Biometric identifiers, including finger and voice prints
  • Health plan beneficiary numbers
  • Full-face photographs and any comparable images
  • Account numbers
  • Any other unique identifying number, characteristic or code
  • Certificate license numbers

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