Every Star has an Achilles heel

Employees of a New Jersey hospital have been either reprimanded or suspended – depending on the source – for peeking at the medical records of actor George Clooney, who was involved in a motorcycle accident there.

I worked on-site at a hospital a few years back, and anyone with a computer logon could check anyone's record. The fact that many hospital employees (I actually worked for a transcription service but had an office at the hospital) received their care from physicians within the hospital network because they could do so more economically made for a situation that I felt compromised their privacy. I remember an especially messy incident involving an HIV diagnosis. The gossip was so thick that it became a Human Resource issue, and the employee involved was understandably furious.
Then there was the incident at the Mayo Clinic when I worked there, where two transcriptionists were terminated for gossiping in the ladies room about the health issues of a famous patient that one of them had transcribed.

And does anyone remember that actor Anthony Perkins' (the original Norman Bates of Psycho) lab work was leaked to the media, making it public that he had AIDS? I thought that was awful.

I believe that many celebrities use aliases when being admitted to the hospital for surgeries or to give birth. Any prominent person who finds himself or herself being treated at a hospital ER for an accident or sudden illness would be a fool to tell the treating physician anything more than he/she needs to know to provide care, like if they're taking or are allergic to any medications that might make a prescribed medication counterproductive (or worse).
George Clooney strikes me as being nobody's fool. The actor did not complain about the situation and has spoken out in its aftermath, declaring that suspension seems like excessive punishment. (Spoken like a man who knows he did not share anything of any interest to his treating physician).

One of the unsubstantiated stories circulating is that the snooping employees were suspended for four weeks without pay. That does seem excessive; however, I can't help thinking that if these employees were suspended for three days with no pay and it was publicized, it might go a long way toward preserving the privacy of other famous people. A hospital employee will surely think twice before selling someone's private information to a tabloid if they are in danger of losing their job and any future means of employment in the medical field. The tabloids don't pay that much.

What do you think?


Donna D said...

I agree with you Bettye, on the issues of privacy. However, as I have understood the story, no one tried to sell George's information to the tabloids; they were just curious to see what they could learn about him.

Honestly, if I were in that position, I probably would have been curious too. I think some punishment is warranted, but as the information did not go outside the walls of the hospital, suspension for more than a day I think is excessive.

I think George Clooney should be commended for the maturity he exhibited regarding this incident. He felt the matter should have been handled internally and not publicized in the least. The hospital overreacted.

Shelia said...

This is a sticky situation. Being curious is one thing but losing your job over it is another. I'm sure this will serve as a reminder to people in that position; whether it's someone famous or a colleague; a patient or past patient shouldn't have to worry about their privacy being compromised.

Hmmm. Would I have looked? Probably not in this case, but if it was Prince or Morris Chestnum...well that's an entirely different matter :)

Patricia W. said...

The real issue is that there are loads of data about every single individual all over the place, stored in computers everywhere. And we never stop to think who might have access to that data by virtue of being an employee.

Medical records? How about credit records? Experian has employees.

I used to manage the information systems department for a collection agency. We did collections for health providers as well as credit card firms. The data from one client is never supposed to meet the data from another. But it wouldn't have taken much effort. And occasionally, in very innocent ways, like troubleshooting a system problem, I did come across friends, relatives, or people in the news.

I now work for an online retailer. Would be nothing to research folks' buying habits. But I don't. Because it's not my business and I really don't have time for that.

Yet, we should all be aware...

bettye griffin said...

It's a scary world we live in. People who work at tax preparation services are stealing identities. A person's medical records can be viewed by any hospital employee with a computer password, which lets out the custodial and food preparation crew, and if you're anybody famous, you're at risk of having your health issues splashed all over the news. (I still think that if George Clooney had confided anything juicy about his medical history to his treating ER physician, one of those snoopers would have sold it. But I agree that he handled the matter graciously.)

Hey, at Mayo they used to threaten us with the Big Brother is watching line . . . and I believed them!

You make a lot of sense to me, Donna.

Shelia, you might be curious, but think about it for a minute. Isn't it better to admire from afar than to learn that the person you've got a teensy crush on suffers from, say, irritable bowel syndrome?

Patricia, your sobering assessment has me afraid . . . very afraid.

Thanks for posting, ladies!
Thanks, ladies!