Shocking medical headlines no one heard

Shocking medical headlines no one heard

By Ellen Ratner   
Brigham and Women's Hospital is one of three hospital in Boston that was recently paid a combined $999,999 to settle allegations of violating federal laws protecting patient privacy by allowing ABC to film for a medical documentary at the facility without getting patients' permission. (

NEW YORK — With the television stations carrying news about the Brett Kavanaugh appointment, Rod Rosenstein and The New York Times, most of the medical news has been overlooked. By contrast medical news is simply not that interesting, but it actually affects people as much as if Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court Justice.

A few stories made it to the news this week from the world of medicine. One about patient privacy is totally incredible. In the world of HIPAA, a law that passed in 1996, patient privacy is paramount. HIPAA stands for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.” It provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

A story from STAT says, “Federal officials say they’ve reached settlements with three Boston hospitals that they say compromised patient privacy by inviting film crews for an ABC medical documentary show without first getting permission from patients. Altogether, Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital paid $999,000 to settle potential violations of HIPAA. It’s the second HIPAA case involving an ABC medical documentary series. In 2016, federal officials settled with New York-Presbyterian Hospital over possible privacy violations during the filming of “NY Med.”

Although another case was settled in April, “NY Med” is advertised on Hulu and encourages people to watch at home. The New York Business Journal reports: “New York Presbyterian Hospital has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a patient privacy case brought by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced [April 19.].

“The hospital had allowed the ABC television series ‘NY Med’ to film inside its facility, and the show shot and aired footage of two patients without gaining their permission. In one case, the patient was dying and in the other the patient was experiencing significant distress. The ABC show followed real-life medical personnel.

” ‘This case sends an important message that OCR will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their permission,’ ” OCR’s director Jocelyn Samuels said in a statement.

Then, as if the week did not bring enough bad news, we heard that a Cornell University researcher will resign at the end of the academic year because some of his papers have questionable data. The Ithaca Journal reported, “In response to the Journal of the American Medical Association retracting six of his studies, Cornell University food scientist Brian Wansink has tendered his resignation. The recent retractions raise the total number of retracted studies by Wansink to 13. Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff confirmed Thursday evening the university had been reviewing allegations against Wansink for more than a year. Wansink will retire from Cornell at the end of the academic year and has been removed from all teaching and research. The remainder of his time will be ‘obligated to spend his time cooperating with the university in its ongoing review of his prior research,’ Kotlikoff wrote in a statement.”

As if these revelations were not shocking enough, there was also an arrest by the authorities in California this week of a trained surgeon. The Cut reported:

Just one day after reports emerged that a California doctor and his girlfriend were facing charges for drugging, sexually assaulting, and filming their sexual encounters with two women, at least six new people who believe they may be victims have come forward.

According to court documents, orthopedic surgeon Grant Robicheaux, 38, and his 31-year-old girlfriend Cerissa Riley would meet women in restaurants or bars, drink when them until they were intoxicated, and then take them back to Robicheaux’s apartment, where they would allegedly sexually assault them.

The first assault allegedly took place in April 2016, after the couple met a 32-year-old Jane Doe at a restaurant in Newport Beach, invited her to a boat party, and took her back to Robicheaux’s apartment once she was intoxicated. There, prosecutors say that the couple “[supplied] multiple drugs to the victim,” and then “[raped] and orally [copulated] her while she was prevented from resisting due to intoxicating and controlled substances. In a forensic exam she had the next day, she tested positive for multiple controlled substances.

We expect people who have graduated from nursing and medical school, as well as academic researchers, to be beyond reproach. When I worked in mental health, a nurse had passed a drug test by using food coloring in her urine. I was as shocked then as I am now. Medical personnel are like the rest of the population, and there are bad seeds amount them. We need to understand that, and know that people in the health care professions can be as bad as the general population.

This week’s news underlines that.

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