It wasn't the fact that pop-star Lindsey Lohan's father, Michael Lohan, was hospitalized that caught my eye, nor was it the splashy headline: Michael Lohan Struggling to Speak, Breathe. What caught my eye was the picture that accompanies the article that reportedly shows Mr. Lohan asleep in his hospital bed.
Is this picture of a man who is "short of breath" authentic? Since there is no oxygen tubing and no pulse oximeter applied to the pictured patient's finger, we are left to wonder.
But what if the picture IS authentic? What will happen as a result?
Will this photograph be ignored? For hospital administration and government regulators, this would pose an enormous problem.
If not ignored, will the perpetrators be brought to justice? What financial "lesson" will be levied against them?
It is frightening to consider how an investigation of such an obvious lapse in patient privacy might be conducted thanks to the implications to health care facilities imposed by HIPAA. Will all the nurses on the unit be placed on administrative leave until someone squeals? Or maybe the cleaning staff? Maybe the family themselves? Perhaps the whole hospital will have to attend HIPAA refresher courses. Perhaps the ward should be closed until the problem identified. And what about the hospital administration who have permitted such an egregious lapse in governmental policy? What fines will be levied against them as a result? Will hospital costs for future patients be adversely affected as a result of these fines?
What is clear is that the ability to maintain patient privacy is quickly becoming impossible to manage, thanks to the explosion of hand-held cell phones and miniature cameras, not to mention the requirement for electronic medical records for those receiving government-funded health care.
Real patient privacy remains a local challenge, not a universal, governmental one. Sadly, in our attempt to provide global governmental privacy protections, we forgot to protect those that are most affected when breeches occur: the innocent workers and patients themselves.