Sharp Healthcare Faces Lawsuit for Secretly Recording Female Patients During Surgery

A group of 81 female patients of Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital have filed a lawsuit against the facility for severe breaches in patient privacy. The lawsuit alleges that the hospital secretly recorded video footage of female patients undressing and having various medical procedures performed.

According to the lawsuit, the hospital installed video cameras in three operating rooms as part of an internal investigation into the theft of the anaesthesia drug, propofol, from drug carts. The cameras were motion-activated and continued to record even after the motion had stopped. The cameras were actively recording between July 17, 2012, and June 30, 2013, at its facility on Grossmont Center Drive in El Cajon, San Diego.

During the time that the cameras were recording 1,800 patients were filmed undergoing gynaecological procedures such as hysterectomies, Caesarean births, dilation and curettage for miscarriages, and other surgical procedures.

A spokesperson for Sharp Grossmont Hospital confirmed that three cameras had been installed to ensure patient safety by determining the cause of missing drugs from the carts.

The lawsuit states that “At times, defendants’ patients had their most sensitive genital areas visible.” The position of the laptop cameras was such that patients’ faces could be seen in the recordings. Therefore, any patient who had such private procedures recorded could easily be identified from the footage. Should unauthorised third-party gain access to this footage, it could be potentially very compromising or embarrassing for the individual, with devastating consequences if used for nefarious purposes.

The lawsuit alleges that both medical and non-medical staff could access the video recordings. The lawsuit further alleges that so little protection has been placed on the videos that even strangers could access the video via desktop computers. The hospital had not implemented controls to log which users had gained access to the video recordings or why the videos had been viewed. Therefore, there was no way of telling which members of staff may have accessed the videos with no legitimate reason to do so.

The hospital has replaced many of the computers on which the videos were stored, and Sharp has destroyed many of the videos. However, the plaintiffs allege Sharp could not confirm whether those files were securely erased and if they could potentially be recovered.

The plaintiffs originally filed the lawsuit in 2016, but at the time, it was denied class certification. The case has now been re-filed. Only 81 women who received surgical procedures in the operating rooms during the period in which the cameras were active have been included in the lawsuit. However, it is expected that hundreds of more women will join.

The plaintiffs allege their privacy was violated as a result of the unlawful recording of video footage, there was a breach of fiduciary duty, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and that the failure to secure the video footage and ensure it was permanently destroyed amounts to gross negligence.

As a result of the actions of Sharp, “Plaintiffs suffered harm including, but not limited to, suffering, anguish, fright, horror, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation, embarrassment, shame, mortification, hurt feelings, disappointment, depression and feelings of powerlessness,” states the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial.

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Christine Garcia is the staff writer on Calculated HIPAA. Christine has several years experience in writing about healthcare sector issues with a focus on the compliance and cybersecurity issues. Christine has developed in-depth knowledge of HIPAA regulations. You can contact Christine at [email protected]. You can follow Christine on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ChrisCalHIPAA