Do you remember slightly more than six months ago, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it had reached separate settlements with Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for compromising the privacy of patients’ protected health information (PHI) by inviting film crews on premises to film an ABC television network documentary series, without first obtaining authorization from patients? The settlements came to about one million dollars.
Now today, from the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office, a similar situation resulted in a fine for a London production company, although the monetary penalty is much lower than the comparable U.S. case:
A television production company which unfairly and unlawfully filmed patients at a maternity clinic has been fined £120,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
True Visions Productions (TVP) of London set up CCTV-style cameras and microphones in examination rooms at the clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge for a Channel 4 documentary on stillbirths. The walk-in clinic is for patients who have concerns about their pregnancy.
The ICO investigation found that although TVP had the hospital trust’s permission to be on site, TVP did not provide patients with adequate information about the filming, which took place from July to November 2017, or get adequate permission from those affected by the filming in advance.
Steve Eckersley, ICO Director of Investigations, said:
”Patients would not have expected to have been filmed in this situation, and many will have been very distressed when they learned such a private and potentially traumatic moment had been recorded.
“The recorded footage would have included the sensitive personal data of patients who could already be suffering anxiety and stress.
“We recognise the public interest in programmes that aim to educate and inform, but those responsible for making them must operate within the law, particularly when the subject involves the processing of highly sensitive medical information.
“In particular, we took the view that there was no valid reason for the television company to have failed to adequately inform patients in advance that they would be filmed.”
TVP had posted limited notices advising of the filming near to the cameras and in the waiting room area and had left letters on waiting room tables. However, the detailed investigation found that these letters did not provide adequate explanations to patients, with one notice incorrectly stating that mums and visitors would not be filmed without permission.
The law says that personal data must be processed fairly and transparently. A patient attending the clinic would not have reasonably expected there to be cameras in examination rooms and would expect to be made aware of any filming.
Recording stopped following negative media coverage of the filming in November 2017. It then resumed until spring 2018 using different filming techniques and the documentary was broadcast the following October. The unlawfully obtained footage was not broadcast and was deleted.