Military medical officials are imposing new social media guidelines after an Army medic at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany posted an operating room photo of a patient’s severed body part.
The incident, which occurred in mid-September but was just confirmed Wednesday, provoked unspecified disciplinary action against the medic and a commandwide warning from the Army’s top doctor.
“This type of behavior is unprofessional and violates the trust of those we serve, and the tenets of our profession,” said Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West in an email to medical staff.
The image of “unrecognizable body tissue that had been removed” from a soldier was posted to the social media site Snapchat Story, where images automatically expire after 24 hours. However, personnel learned of the incident and ordered that the picture also be deleted from the staffer’s phone, LRMC officials said.
“Another LRMC staff member saw the image and reported it up the chain of command. The person responsible was instructed to delete the photo,” said Stacy Sanning, an LRMC spokeswoman.
No protected health information or personally identifiable information was captured in the photo, the hospital said. Consequently, the patient’s privacy was not compromised and the patient wasn’t notified of the incident, LRMC said.
“The person responsible for posting the photo was temporarily removed from patient care, and everyone involved received corrective disciplinary action,” Sanning said.
LRMC did not elaborate on the nature of the injury or where it was suffered, but a medical staffer speaking on condition of anonymity said it occurred in a combat zone.
The soldier’s motive for posting the image stemmed from his pride in taking part in the procedure rather than in seeking to embarrass or violate the patient’s rights, the source said.
Medical personnel’s use of social media is a growing concern. In September, Navy medical personnel were disciplined after Snapchat photos of a nurse giving the middle finger to a newborn went viral.
In response to the LRMC incident, policies for “appropriate” medical photography and social media behavior in the clinical environment have been established at Europe clinics.
A Dec. 11 memorandum by Regional Health Command Europe, which spells out a host of restrictions and consent requirements, warns that violators could be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for disobeying an order. For civilians, “adverse administrative and personnel actions may result.”
LRMC Commander Col. Timothy Hudson said Wednesday his staff receives training on protecting patient privacy and ensuring patient trust. He warned that ethical breaches can erode that trust.
“Health care and the military are among the most trusted professions, and we work hard to maintain and deserve that trust … but it can be easily lost,” Hudson said in a statement. “As professionals and as human beings, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable. It’s not only about doing the right thing, protecting patient privacy is the law.”
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