Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jane, the robots, and medical privacy

This is a rough account of a story that's been taking place for over a year.

Jane (not her real name) was a mother with a then 11-year-old daughter. One day Jane went to the emergency room in severe pain, which turned out to be pain in her left ovary. Ultrasounds were performed, and a total hysterectomy was recommended. Medical personnel from St. Rita's Medical Center told Jane about a procedure called robotic hysterectomy, which allowed more precision than a hysterectomy performed using older non-robotic methods. Jane consented to the procedure, and apparently the procedure went well - so well, in fact, that a conversation like this subsequently happened.

"Jane, this is Wanda at St. Rita's. How are you doing?"

"Great, Wanda!"

"That's good to hear, Jane. I'm glad that St. Rita's robotic surgery worked well for you."

"It certainly did, Wanda."

"I'm glad you feel that way, Jane. Um, Jane - St. Rita's would like to tell your story. We wouldn't include specific details, of course, but we wanted to let other people know about the robotic surgery procedures that we can perform, and how they can help patients to recover more quickly."

"What would I have to do?"

"Nothing. We'd just need to take a picture of you, and we'll take care of the rest."

"Now this wouldn't go into detail about the nature of my surgery, would it?"

"Of course not, Jane."

Now perhaps some of this is open to debate, but at least some of these events took place. Jane's picture was taken, and St. Rita's shared Jane's story - including Jane's real name and the age of her daughter - in a page 3 ad in the May 21, 2011 edition of the Delphos Herald.

But wait - there's more! They ran a billboard also. The billboard didn't include Jane's name, but it did include her picture along with a quote attributed to her:

Robotic hysterectomy was my answer.

That billboard and quote caught the eye of Steven Hodson, who shared it in a WinExtra post.

I did some more digging, and shared more of the story (with an angle on future medical procedures) in a post in my tymshft blog.

That tymshft post resulted in the following comment from "Zion":

This woman on the billboard is my sister in law. She never said that quote, it was created by St. Rita’s. In fact she’s likely going to sue them over the quote and over telling the entire world about the hysterectomy. The only thing she had agreed to have the billboard say was that robotic surgery worked for her, not the specifics about the type of procedure.

Now most of you realize that many of the quotes in advertisements and press releases were never actually said by the people who supposedly said them. The quotes are usually written by a marketing person, and go to the person who actually said them for approval. If Zion is correct, Jane never approved the quote, and never approved use of the word "hysterectomy" in any part of St. Rita's marketing campaign.

Now St. Rita's may claim otherwise, and may even be able to point to a signed contract in which Jane gave her consent to all of this.

But the whole episode shows that there is a wide range of practices regarding medical privacy. On the one hand, United States medical personnel are under stringent privacy restrictions - so stringent that my wife cannot find out medical details about me unless I give specific consent.

On the other hand, everyone in Ohio knows about Jane's uterus. And she's not smiling.
blog comments powered by Disqus