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Photographing in the ER w/o violating HIPPA rights
Erin McCracken, Photographer
Evansville | IN | USA | Posted: 12:57 PM on 08.02.07
->> I am posting this for my Photo Editor and are hoping that you all might be able to help us out, either post on this thread or contact us through email any help is very much appreciated:

Fellow photojournalists,

A photographer here at the Courier & Press has been working on a project in a local ER, focusing on the doctor's and nurses. Before beginning the
project, he sat down with public relations and doctors with the
understanding that he would not shoot patients without violating their HIPPA rights.

A security guard on a different night than he had been shooting was not
informed of the project and threw him out of the ER. Today, we had a sit
down with public relations, the head of security (who turns out, was the one who threw him out of the ER, public relations forgot to inform her) and the Privacy Advocate for the hospital. Everyone wants to let the photographer back into the ER, but before they do that, they would like to see any papers or articles written by our profession on the HIPPA law and how we work with it. Once they look at these papers, they will let our photographer back into the ER. They want us working on this project as well, but I have a feeling this is so we can avoid any future misunderstanding. Can anyone steer me to these papers or articles?

Thank you,

Cecelia Hanley
Photo Editor
Evansville Courier & Press
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Andrew Smith, Photographer
Ross-shire | UK | Scotland | Posted: 1:30 PM on 08.02.07
->> Things like this seem to be much more complicated in America than they are in the UK. Litigious culture? One day last week I rang our main regional hospital at 9am and asked if I could come and get some stock images. At 11:30am I was being escorted around the hospital by the communications officer.

I'd told them that I wouldn't take any pictures of patients. She stated the same rule back at me a couple of times, presumably just to cover herself. That was all there was to it, no hassles at all. The only 'interference' I got was from a security guard who came over to ask what I was doing, but he knew I was allowed to be there, he was just interested. Made me miss the shot of an ambulance I'd been waiting 10 mins for but with hindsight I don't think it was a great shot anyway :-)

These are the sort of pictures I was doing:
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 1:40 PM on 08.02.07
->> Litigious culture?

Not this time. We have a law that places a tremendous protection around patient privacy. It's not even the fear that a patient could sue the hospital for a violation, it is that the governing body could and can impose some very arbitrary fines for such violations. How would you like to face a $10,000 fine for not having your computer network set to automatically logoff users after a set idle time, or for leaving a chart with patient information left face-up on a counter that others walk past.

Erin, you have mail....
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William Luther, Photographer
San Antonio | TX | USA | Posted: 2:44 PM on 08.02.07
->> Erin,

You, as a member of the media, cannot violate someone's HIPPA rights.

The HIPPA rules were not written for the media. They were written for the people treating patients -- the medical professionals.

In your case, if you photograph a patient's chart without their permission, for example, and publish that in the newspaper. You have not violated the patient's HIPPA rights, the hospital has violated their HIPPA rights by letting you do that without their permission. You may be guilty of something else, like invasion of privacy, but you are not in violation of HIPPA.

In recent years, some first responders have tried to use HIPPA as an excuse to prevent media from photographing at news scenes, for example. But again, this is not a violation of HIPPA.

A simple search for "media HIPPA" in Google brought up tons of pages explaining this issue.
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Peter Huoppi, Photographer
Burlington/Pomfret | VT/CT | USA | Posted: 3:09 PM on 08.02.07
->> I think William has it right. HIPPA governs how the hospital protects a patient's privacy. On the many occasions when I was shooting in the hospital, it was with the understanding that someone from hospital PR would have patients sign a release telling the hospital they agreed to have their picture taken. Without a release, I was asked not to show a patient's identity. Never had a problem in about 5 years.
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Andrew Carpenean, Photographer
Laramie | WY | USA | Posted: 3:09 PM on 08.02.07
->> Erin,

It's the hospital's responsibility to protect patients rights of confidentiality. And in doing so should have proper documentation in regards to a wavier the patient or guardian would sign to release such images to the media granting you permission for use. Obviously, not always possible to get upfront so shoot first and ask questions later.

The photographer is probably very lucky to have gained access, especially in the ER. Hippa shouldn't have anything to do with it unless a patient believes their rights have been violated, but the hospital is ultimately at fault. Make sure those waviers are signed by the patient, guardian or next of kin if the patient should die and you should be protected, but this will also protect the hospital's better interest.

If someone refuses to grant permission where you can clearly see their face in an image, don't publish those photos and you should be able to keep yourself out of a law suit.
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Erin McCracken, Photographer
Evansville | IN | USA | Posted: 4:21 PM on 08.02.07
->> I'm going to let our Photo Editor type a response - Erin:

I appreciate everyone's response. We UNDERSTAND HIPPA. We do not want to violate anyone's rights, and we are not doing so. We just need some specific articles or documents that journalists and photojournalists in our industry have published so the privacy advocate will be placated and let us back in. The PR folks and the privacy advocate are pleased with the way we have been photographing and are not angry at us in any way, nor do they feel we have violated any law. The request is just to show understanding between the groups and to allay any fears from the head of security who seems to be upset that her PR folks forgot to inform her. I am just looking for specific articles, that is all. (I believe she just wants them for her files so we can continue to do projects with the hospital.) Again, we have not violated anyone's rights and have been working with PR all along. The project is on the doctors, not the patients. Thanks for your concerns, but we just need the olive branch to get us back into the ER. - Cecelia Hanley
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Brockton | MA | United States | Posted: 4:57 PM on 08.02.07
->> "they would like to see any papers or articles written by our profession on the HIPPA law and how we work with it"

As I told you in my email if there is one thing that I know it is the workings of the ER and hospitals. There is no significance to what anyone else in the 'profession' has written about journalism and HIPPA. This is just a way of stalling or sending you off onto a pointless paper chase. The only thing that really matters are the ground rules that you and the hospital have agreed upon and what tools (forms) the hospital has made available to allow willing patients to be part of the project, if in fact patients are part of the project. If there are no patients or individually identifiable patient information involved in the project then HIPPA has no standing in the matter.

I think that you have innocently managed to get in the middle of some in-fighting between departments. Do your best to extricate yourself from the argument, every hospital in the US has at least one legal firm that provides opinions on everything from treatment of emancipated minors to this. It is up to those lawyers and the hospital's staff to judge YOUR project and how it may invoke HIPPA protection for patients and patient information.

If an olive branch is what you are looking for, give them an outline of the project. As far as cameras in the ED goes, just turn on TLC any afternoon for a slew of reality 'ER' programs.

Personally I think that if you have been put in a position to 'win over' one department head when another has granted you the green light, the project is all but dead, or on major life support.
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Alicia Wagner Calzada, Photographer
San Antonio | TX | USA | Posted: 5:25 PM on 08.02.07
->> here's one.
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Thread Title: Photographing in the ER w/o violating HIPPA rights
Thread Started By: Erin McCracken
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