I hope this doesn't become a trend. Ethel Easter, a patient at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston surreptitiously recorded her doctors while she was undergoing a hiatal hernia repair. She complained to her surgeon during a consultation visit about her severe abdominal pain caused by the hernia. When he dismissed her symptoms and scheduled her operation months later, she became suspicious of his demeanor and decided to record his conversations during the procedure. In preop, she went to the restroom to change into her gown and placed a tiny audio recorder into her ponytail. What she heard astonished her.
The surgeon can be heard on the recording complaining about her attitude. "She's a handful," he said. "She had some choice words for us in the clinic when we didn't book her case in two weeks." Later on, one voice is heard laughing about her navel, "Did you see her belly button?" The anesthesiologist was heard to ask cryptically, "Do you want me to touch her?" The surgeon replied, "I can touch her." Then another person said, "That's a Bill Cosby suggestion."
For Ms. Easter, she was even more disturbed by a cellphone conversation the surgeon made during an operation and that he dismissed her penicillin allergy. She claims penicillin gives her a rash. When the surgeon ordered a test dose of Ancef anyway, she developed pruritus and rashes postop that required an emergency room visit. She says she still has trouble breathing normally.
Ms. Easter sent the recording to the hospital administrator. She hasn't decided whether to file a lawsuit against the doctors. For now she says she just wants an apology. She claims that she is doing this, "For all the workers and the doctors: Don't do this. Just treat people the way they would like their mother, their sister, their wives to be treated."
Yes there is great truth to her statement. It is easy for physicians to forget that our patients are more than just another name on the medical record. They are somebody's husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters. We should treat every patient with the same dignity we would treat our own relatives. That should go without saying. Otherwise more patients may feel the need to secretly record their doctors to protect themselves from any possible shenanigans while they are incapacitated. With the miniaturization of electronics these days, it is all too easy to slip a tiny device into the hair and cover it up with an OR hair net. Or leave a recording device on in one's personal belongings which are taken into the room with the patient.
Do the right thing by the patient and you'll never have to say sorry for what you do.