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June 25, 2015

Doc who mocked sedated patient found guilty of defamation, malpractice

Daily Briefing

    A Virginia jury last week ordered an anesthesiologist and her practice to pay $500,000 to a patient who unknowingly recorded the doctor and her assistants mocking him—and intentionally misdiagnosing him—during a colonoscopy performed in 2013.

    The patient had inadvertently left on his smartphone's audio recorder, which he had used to capture post-operative instructions. When he began listening to the recording on the way home, he was shocked.

    Should patients be allowed to record doctor visits?

    "After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op, I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit," he heard anesthesiologist Tiffany Ingham say shortly after he was unconscious.

    Later, Ingham instructed an assistant to avoid touching the man's genitals because she could get "some syphilis on your arm." Her assistants also speculated about the man's sexuality, among other comments.

    At one point, Ingham suggested falsifying the man's medical record to indicate he had hemorrhoids—which the doctor later did.

    Defamation case raises questions about online criticism of physicians

    After hearing the recording, the patient—who says he suffered embarrassment, anxiety, and lost sleep for many months after the incident—sued Ingham and her practice for medical malpractice and defamation. Ingham's lawyers argued that the recording was not legal, but the patient's attorneys noted that Virginia only requires one person involved in a conversation to consent to a recording.

    Kathryn McGoldrick, former president of the Academy of Anesthesiology, testified at the trial that the type of comments made by Ingham and her assistants "are not only offensive but frankly stupid, because we can never be certain that our patients are asleep and wouldn't have recall."

    Ingham no longer works at the facility where the procedure occurred. Her attorneys declined to comment on whether she faced any disciplinary action by the Virginia Board of Medicine (Jackman, Washington Post, 6/23; Silverstein, New York Daily News, 6/24).

    The takeaway: A Virginia doctor was found guilty of defamation and medical malpractice after she was recorded mocking a patient and discussing falsifying his medical record while he was sedated.

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