Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Docs Pose With Organs for Instagram
Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is launching an investigation after a group of residents posted to a public Instagram page a number of graphic photos taken in the operating room, local station WOOD-TV reported.
One of the photos was of an organ from a patient, while another showed a fibroid tissue that appeared to come from a patient who was still lying on the operating table, the station reported.
The grisly photos were posted with captions, according to a follow-up WOOD-TV report, including: “The other game we play in the OR is guess that weight…. It applies to much more than just babies. As always, ‘Price is Right’ rules apply so if you go over then you’re out!”
“It demonstrates profoundly poor judgment on the part of these young physicians, profoundly poor,” Jules Olsman, a personal injury attorney, told the station. “It’s being done for almost entertainment…. You need authorization from the patient, and I assure you there’s no authorization from the patients to have this type of amusement at their expense,” he added.
Olsman further told the media outlet that, though the photos do not depict patients’ faces, they could still be argued to constitute medical records and put the health system in violation of HIPAA.
Spectrum Health said it is “shocked and dismayed” and is taking “corrective action.”
Hawaii Locks Down Info Access
Though Hawaii has been praised for having among the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the nation, its heavy restrictions on access to public records during the pandemic haven’t won the same plaudits, the Associated Press reported.
In March of last year, Gov. David Ige (D) issued an emergency proclamation that suspended the state’s longstanding public records law, AP reported. The law, or course, is meant to protect the public interest by ensuring access to government records.
Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, told AP that Ige’s suspension of Hawaii’s law came at a time when the public was especially interested in what the government was doing to respond to the unfolding public health crisis. He pointed to a whistleblower’s exposure of the state Department of Health’s inadequate number of contract tracers, which the public would never have known otherwise.
Ige told AP the records law’s suspension was meant to let state and county agencies focus fully on the COVID-19 crisis. “We’ve had many requests to our office and oftentimes the requests are very broad and open-ended — wanting to see all correspondence dealing with COVID-19, for example,” he said.
In May, Ige ended the suspension — but then removed deadlines for agencies to respond to public records requests.
The latest iteration of the emergency proclamation was adopted last month, AP reported. It suspends response deadlines only if complying with public records requests involves reviewing hard copy files not accessible during the pandemic, or if a deadline would impede pandemic response.
Novel Knee Surgery Fail
The University of Missouri has settled personal injury and false advertising claims tied to certain knee surgeries for $16.2 million, Kaiser Health News reported.
From 2018 to 2020, 22 people filed lawsuits over “BioJoint” procedures pioneered by a pair of university employees: orthopedic surgeon James Stannard, MD, and veterinarian James Cook, DVM. The settlement agreements – obtained by KHN through a public records request – were signed last month.
The surgeries in question involve replacing parts of the knee with cadaver bones or cartilage to treat arthritis or joint damage, KHN reported, citing the University of Missouri BioJoint Center’s website. However, plaintiffs – who included several minors – alleged in their suits that Stannard did not advise them the procedure can have a failure rate “as high as 86%.” They also alleged the surgeries were experimental and sometimes left patients needing additional procedures and total knee replacements.
Plaintiffs further alleged that Stannard was negligent because he allowed Cook to perform parts of the procedures on them “‘without appropriate medical direction and supervision,'” KHN reported.
“It’s not uncommon to have vets as part of your research team, but it would be uncommon to have them as part of your clinical patient care team,” Patrick McCulloch, MD, vice chairman of Houston Methodist’s orthopedic surgery department, told KHN.
Michelle Mello, a Stanford University professor of law and medicine, told KHN that the plaintiffs’ advertising claims likely allowed the legal team representing them to negotiate a larger settlement amount. The university had advertised the surgery during the Super Bowl one year and at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.