Privacy is an important thing in the medical profession. Most patients aren’t too keen on divulging their private information, particularly their medical history and current illness to just anyone. In some cases, patients would even not want to divulge their diagnoses to family members in fear of worrying them, or simply because the patient is ashamed of his/her medical condition. An example of this would be if the patient was diagnosed with cancer, and he/she would not want the doctor to share this with the rest of the family. Another example would be if the patient got a sexually-transmitted infection and would not want to tell their spouse.
On the other hand, physicians have to follow a code of ethics that clearly states that no information exchange between the patient and the physician can be disclosed to anyone without the patient’s consent. This is more commonly known as the code of Patient-Doctor Confidentiality. It is a social contract between the patient and the physician—a contract that involves a lot of respect and trust.
But in St. Louis, there was an infringement of this social contract. The infringement was between Dr. Michele Koo, and ten of her patients who filed a law suit against the plastic surgeon, stating that their “before-and-after” shots of their breast augmentation procedures were posted on-line with their names present in the photos. Most of the patients found out about this through their friends, who were as surprise as they were.
The lawyer for 8 of the 10 women who are filing the lawsuit, Atty. Neil Bruntrager, said that the case was not just limited to the 10 women known to be filing a lawsuit against Dr. Koo, but is also related to approximately 30 more women who have their photos posted in the surgeon’s website. According to reports, the photos were posted in the website were up to protocol—meaning that the photos were taken with the patient’s face not exposed and were taken with their consent. The only problem was that the “negligence” of Dr. Koo in posting the pictures along with their names.
The patients range from around 20 to 50 years of age, and were horrified when they themselves looked-up their names on the internet search or when their friends told them that they saw their nude photos uploaded.
As a response from Dr. Koo, her lawyer said that it was not her intention to divulge any private information between her and her clients and said that she has always upheld her standards to match the client’s best interests, and blames her web-manager, MedNet, for not acting in a legally-appropriate manner. On the other hand, MedNet’s CEO, John Pellman, said in a report recently that all doctors who send content to them that are to be posted online in the websites should be responsible enough to filter out any unnecessary information. Pellman said that he has constantly reminded physicians who are not that used to on-line content to always check what information or photos they want to be posted online, so that there wouldn’t be any infringement on their contracts with their patients.
Finally, Pellman said that this was not a problem some time ago, when there was less “searching power” in the internet. But now, technology has almost made it possible for anything to be searched on-line—given the right amount of information. He reminds both physicians and patients alike to always be mindful what information they want and don’t want to be posted, since anything online is available for scrutiny to almost the entire world.