Be careful what you say during surgery, doctors.

There are a lot of despicable doctors out there, ranging from those who murder their patients to those who are downright insane. Other doctors, however, can be despicable without even realizing it.

Who hasn’t made a joke at someone else’s expense or said something mean about someone behind his or her back to friends or colleagues as a way to vent frustration? It’s harmless if the unknowing victim doesn’t hear you, right?

Wrong — especially when it involves doctors and their patients.

A man in Virginia was recently awarded $500,000 after an anesthesiologist was caught mocking and insulting him during a procedure. The unidentified patient set his phone to record before being sedated for a colonoscopy, intending to record instructions the doctor would provide after the procedure. However, when he listened to the recording after the procedure, he heard much more than he bargained for.

“After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op, I wanted to punch you in the face and ‘man you up’ a little bit,” anesthesiologist Tiffany Ingham told the sedated patient in the audio recording.

Ingham also cruelly joked about a rash on the patient’s body. “It’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you’ll be all right,” she quipped.  

After taking the doctor to court, the patient was awarded $100,000 for defamation, $200,000 for medical malpractice, and $200,000 for punitive damages.

Take this as a lesson, doctors — be careful with what you say in the operating room, but be careful with what you do, as well.

Another incident in 2011 led to a lawsuit after an anesthesiologist decorated a patient’s face with stickers while she was unconscious as a nurse’s aide snapped a photo with her cell phone. The woman launched a civil lawsuit against the hospital over the breach of medical privacy. Dr. Patrick Yang and the other healthcare professionals involved in the incident were let off easy; they were disciplined but not fired.

The incident opened up a discussion about the use of cell phones in the operating room.

“The idea that people are using their cell phone or even have one in the operating room is crazy,” said Dr Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group in Austin, Texas. “It’s a massive security risk and incredibly insensitive to patients.”

Doctors in similar situations often lose their jobs over the issue. In 2010, 4 employees at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California were fired because they took photos of a dead patient in the emergency department and shared them with others.

Doctors, let us know what you think: should cell phones be allowed in the operating room?

Reference

  1. Terhune C. Surgery photo leads to privacy lawsuit against Torrance Memorial. Los Angeles Times. September 04, 2013. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/sep/04/business/la-fi-hospital-patient-privacy-20130905. Accessed July 17, 2015.
  2. Man wins lawsuit after phone catches doctor mocking him during surgery. Fox News. June 24, 2015. http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/06/24/patient-wins-500000-lawsuit-after-anesthesiologist-insults-him-during-surgery. Accessed July 17, 2015.