Privacy: Unauthorized Filming of Patient’s Death a Breach of Confidentiality

June 22, 2016 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​The family of a man whose death was filmed and broadcast without their consent sufficiently alleged breach of physician-patient confidentiality, held a New York appellate court, allowing them to proceed to trial against the defendant hospital and physician. The patient, who had been struck by a vehicle, was alert and answering questions when he arrived at the defendant hospital's emergency department (ED). During his treatment—with the hospital's knowledge and permission—employees of a television production company were filming a documentary series on medical trauma. The patient, his wife, and other family members were all unaware of the crew's presence or the filming, and had no opportunity to grant or withhold consent.

The patient died less than an hour after arriving in the ED. Pronouncement of his death by the chief surgical resident was filmed, as was the physician's conversation with the patient's family informing them of his death. Sixteen months later, the patient's widow unexpectedly recognized her late husband's voice, heard his moans, and saw his death in the documentary while watching television in her home. She and her family sued the hospital and the physician under New York state law for breach of physician-patient confidentiality and intentional infliction of emotional distress, alleging that they had revealed confidential medical information regarding the patient's diagnosis and treatment in the documentary and in the raw footage of the recordings. The defendants appealed and the appellate division dismissed the complaint;...

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