OB/GYN Facebook Post: Is it a HIPAA Violation? Or simply insensitive?

SmNYDNI was sitting in the meeting room at the Westin Aruba resort last Saturday reviewing my notes for my final social media presentation to 140 OB/GYNs and midwives when a social media firestorm erupted in the national media.

The New York Daily News headline read “Fury sparked as ob-gyn posts personal patient info on Facebook.” Ironically, my final presentation was titled: “Managing Risk: Safely Navigating the Waters of HIPAA and Negative Comments in Social Media.”  A new case study had emerged.

What exactly caused the fury?

May I show up late to her delivery?

Dr. Amy Dunbar, 33, of St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, Mo., was irritated by a perennially late patient and posted the following on her personal Facebook page:

“So I have a patient who has chosen to either no-show or be late (sometimes hours) for all of her prenatal visits, ultrasounds and NSTs. She is now 3 hours late for her induction. May I show up late to her delivery?”

It may have ended there, except that a woman named Amanda Johnson took a screenshot of Dunbar’s status, and posted the image to Mercy Moms To Be, a Facebook group run by Dr. Dunbar’s hospital, Mercy Medical Center.

Comments flowed on Mercy Moms’ page, with some demanding the hospital fire or otherwise discipline Dunbar, while others jumped to the doctor’s defense.

Did the post violate HIPAA?

Although insensitive, did Dr. Dunbar’s post rise to the level of violating HIPAA regulations. Did she deserve to be terminated? The hospital decided the answer was no. In a statement emailed to Mashable, Mercy Medical Center wrote:

“Mercy values the dignity and privacy of all our patients and we are very sorry that this incident occurred. While our privacy compliance staff has confirmed that this physician’s comments did not represent a breach of privacy laws, they were inappropriate and not in line with our values of respect and dignity. Mercy holds its physicians and other co-workers to high standards in ensuring the protection of patient information. We cannot comment on specific disciplinary actions, but we will use this as an opportunity to reinforce our standards through additional education of our physicians and co-workers, including appropriate use of social media.”

The opposite argument could be made. Dr. Dunbar revealed that it was a patient scheduled to be induced that day, and in a follow-up comment said the patient had suffered a stillborn birth earlier. Certainly family and friends who knew the patient well would be able to identify her. Is that enough?

Kudos to the administrator of the fan page

I offer kudos to the administrator of the Mercy Moms to Be fan page. I’m sure the hospital did not expect this kind of controversy on a page dedicated to new and expectant parents. But rather than remove comments, they let the healthy conversation flow, adding credibility and authenticity to the site.

The lasting lesson here: Doctors, be careful what you post, whether it be personal or public, on the internet. I’m sure it’s a lesson Dr. Dunbar will not soon forget.

How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

2 replies
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

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  2. lauren jonczak
    lauren jonczak says:

    I don’t know if I would want her to be my obgyn even though I don’t think she should be fired. She never specified who the patient was. I think the dr has a right to express herself in social media sites just like everyone does. I am so glad I had the best obgyn for all my deliveries.


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