By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Pixabay stock image
May 7, 2016 (La Mesa) – When drugs began disappearing off anesthesia carts in the Women’s Health Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, the hospital installed hidden video cameras to catch the purported thief, an anesthesiologist, the surveillance revealed. But the videos, shot over a year from mid-July 2012 to July 2013, also included images of women undergoing surgery.
A KPBS iNewsSource investigation reported that some experts raised concerns over medical privacy, suggesting the hospital may have violated the law. The hospital defends its action and contends that no privacy rights were violated.
A dozen videos reportedly showed Dr. Adam Dorin removing the anesthetic propofol off the carts and putting them in his pocket. He initially denied taking the drugs but later clarified that he meant he hadn’t taken them out of the hospital. His attorney has asked to review all the 6,966 videos and claims they would show Dorin giving some of the drugs to patients or replacing them on the cart. He also claims the drug was in short supply and that other anesthesiologists routinely stashed some to be sure they had enough propofol for use in a patient emergency.
But according to the KPBS report, documents filed by Sharp with the California Medical Board by Sharp’s attorney state that some of the videos reveal “female patients in their most vulnerable state, under anesthesia, exposed, and undergoing medical procedures.”
Duane Admire, Dorin’s lawyer, does not want public release of the videos but does want the right to review them in hopes of proving his client innocent. He contends the videos violated rights of patients and others under the U.S. and California constitutions. Admire states, “…if you ever have a reasonable expectation of privacy, it’s when you’re with our doctor, and exposed.”
John Cihomsky, Vice President of PR and communications for Sharp Healthcare, responded to an inquiry from East County Magazine. He states that “at no time was patient privacy ever compromised in this matter. Sharp Grossmont Hospital diligently safeguards the protected health information of all its patients, whether it’s electronic medical records, X-rays and other images, or in this instance, video.”
According to Cihomsky, video was automatically recorded only when medical personnel stepped in front of the anesthesia cart. Recording ceased when the individual stepped away from the cart.
He adds, “Access to the video footage was strictly limited to Sharp investigators, and the only footage sent outside of Sharp to the California Medical Board were clips that showed the medication being removed from the anesthesia cart by the doctor. It was discovered that those incidents actually occurred in the operating room when procedures were not taking place and the room was otherwise empty. All other footage that may have captured images of patients in the background has been retained in a secure environment and following conclusion of this case, all video footage will be destroyed.”
Cihomsky provided a link to an article published in the Incidental Economist which suggests media sensationalized the story. He notes that the hospital “had a potential disaster on its hands” when it feared that medical personnel were stealing and abusing anesthesia drugs, which could threaten patient safety. He praised Grossmont for “acting decisively to identify a physician who was stealing those drugs and swiftly reported him to the California licensing board.”
The article’s author contends that “women who were filmed couldn’t possibly have expected that hospital employees wouldn’t watch their surgeries” adding that videos were not released outside the hospital so “the threat to privacy is entirely notional.” But the author concedes, “Unless the physician’s lawyer gets his way, of course. He wants to watch each and every one of them.” He further speculates negative media could lead some hospitals to avoid taking videos or sharing information, even if doing so is legal.
But some experts disagree. Kimberly New, a Tennessee attorney specializing in halting drug theft in healthcare facilities, told KPBS, “There are video voyeurism laws that prohibit such filming without consent.” In addition, Medicare prohibits filming without explicit patient consent. She added that she believes boilerplate hospital consent forms would not be adequate.
Julianne D’Angelo Fellmeth, an attorney specializing in physician licensing and discipline and administrative director for San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law, told iNewssource, "The hospital compromised;patient privacy." But, she said, there are colliding interests at stake." “You’re trying to go after the diversion of powerful and highly addictive narcotics from a hospital, which are only supposed to be used in an operating room and not any place else."
Dorin has claimed he was being retaliated against for being a whistleblower to the San Diego Union-Tribune back in 2008 over a medical error that led to a death and litigation. Dorin sued the state Medical Board in2014 but his case was later dismissed.
Dorin resigned from Sharp Grossmont in October 2013 and has since resumed practice at Palmdale Regional Medical Center while awaiting the outcome of a hearing in October before an administrative law judge that could result in loss of his license to practice medicine. The hospital subsequently filed its complaint with the state Medical Board alleging that he was stealing drugs in 2015.
Read more on the inews investigation, including interviews with additional medical ethics experts here
Correction: An earlier version stated that the hospital filed its complaint prior to Dorin's resignation, when in fact it was after.