When Sharp Grossmont Hospital (San Deigo, CA) officials realized anesthesia drugs were disappearing from surgery carts, they turned to video surveillance to catch those responsible. In the process, they also captured many images of women undergoing surgery.
The video surveillance has raised questions about patient privacy and how well the hospital managed its storage of dangerous drugs.
An attorney representing a doctor who has been accused of taking the drugs from an anesthesia cart and putting them in his shirt pocket claims the hospital’s “shocking” and “secret” surveillance, which went on for nearly a year starting July 17, 2012, violated the privacy rights of hundreds of patients.
The hospital investigation involved small video cameras mounted inside computer monitors attached to moveable anesthesia machines used in three operating rooms at the Women’s Health Center. The center is part of the hospital’s La Mesa campus.
“Essentially, every patient who had surgery or had their baby delivered by C-section or had a tubal ligation during that time, from July 2012 to June of 2013, would have had their images taken at some point,” said Duane Admire, attorney for the accused physician, Dr. Adam Dorin. Admire said he does not believe the patients consented to have their surgeries recorded on video.
Health care workers’ theft of drugs intended for patients has been an increasing problem nationally. Doctors and employees who steal drugs may be feeding their own addictions, potentially endangering patient care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made this a special focus.
Attorneys interviewed nationally said it’s unclear whether boilerplate consent forms that patients sign cover video surveillance as a component of monitoring quality of care. However, many said hospitals should make such activities clear, with special language in separate consents.
Medical Board Action
The controversy is playing out with the Medical Board of California, which last September filed an accusation against Dorin based in part on a letter from Sharp to the board in 2013. A hearing on the action against Dorin’s license to practice is scheduled for October before an administrative law judge.
Between Feb. 1, 2013, and June 25, 2013, the surveillance captured 6,966 video clips, some depicting “female patients in their most vulnerable state, under anesthesia, exposed, and undergoing medical procedures,” the documents say.
The video clips and their depiction of patients undergoing surgery are the centerpiece of the legal action between the hospital and Dorin. Admire has filed a subpoena with the medical board for all 6,966 clips, saying they will show Dorin subsequently taking the drugs out of his shirt pocket and using them on patients or replacing them in anesthesia carts.
Admire said they will also show other anesthesiologists doing the same thing to make sure they had the anesthetic propofol for a patient in an emergency. Additionally, Admire said that the yearlong surveillance operation showed his client removing “a total of 12 bottles of propofol.”
Dorin “has always maintained that he only took drugs out of the carts for proper patient care,” Admire said.
Sharp opposes releasing the video clips to Dorin and his legal team.