• Tue, Feb 5 2013

OB/GYN Trash Talks A Patient On Facebook And I’m Horrified

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I’m betting Dr. Amy Dunbar, an OB/GYN at a hospital in St. Louis, has been kicking herself for the better part of a week. Why? Because of the grossly unprofessional Facebook status she posted on January 28th, complaining about one of her patients.

Her post read:

So I have a patient who has chosen to either no-show or be late (sometimes hours) for all of her prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and NSTs. She is now three hours late for her induction. May I show up late for her delivery?

Several other medical professionals chimed in underneath the status, making their (often just as unprofessional) opinions known. When Mercy Hospital’s Moms-To-Be posted a screenshot of the exchange on their Facebook page, people started getting angry, and rightfully so. Dr. Dunbar has been reprimanded by the hospital and a spokesperson called her comments ”definitely inappropriate.” The hospital is also reviewing the Facebook posts to see if they violate any privacy regulations.

Obviously, there are issues here in regards to doctor-patient confidentiality and professionalism. But I also think there might also be some issues related to the prevalence of social media today, as well as to the state of modern maternity care.

I’m only going on the facts I have access to from the internet (which, as we can guess, are probably not the full story), so lots of this is pure speculation, but here goes. Maybe Dr. Dunbar’s client was late to all her appointments because she didn’t have reliable transportation and had to rely on friends, family, or public transportation to get her from place to place. Maybe she has anxiety about medical procedures and being in a medical environment so it took her time to get herself mentally ready to go. Maybe she’s a survivor of sexual abuse and her prenatal care serves as a trigger for her. Maybe she didn’t like Dr. Dunbar but Dr. Dunbar was the only doctor her insurance would cover. Maybe she’d had a bad experience with a doctor in a previous pregnancy, or even a bad experience with Dr. Dunbar or at her office earlier in the same pregnancy. I’m not saying I think it was fine for the patient to be continually late or not show up to her appointments, but I do think there’s pretty obviously more to the story.

And maybe Dr. Dunbar’s client simply didn’t want to be induced. (While undoubtedly rude to the doctor and the doctor’s schedule, that’s her choice. Her body, her baby, her choice.) While this may look like a very black-and-white situation, it seems to me that there are many possible reasons and situations that the doctor didn’t consider before making her rude Facebook status.

Dr. Dunbar says that the reason she “put up with” her patient’s behavior is because the patient had had a prior stillbirth. Not only could that fact, combined with the other information, potentially expose this pregnant woman’s medical history, it’s also crass and beyond unprofessional to mention something like this in a public forum. Any and every woman, but especially a woman who has experienced a stillbirth, has the right to safe, confidential maternity care without judgement. It doesn’t look that that’s at all what Dr. Dunbar provides.

While I don’t disagree that doctors, like all people, should be able to blow off steam and show their frustration, the place for that is not social media like Facebook or Twitter. How about complaining later, at home, to your spouse or family? Or sending a frustrated text to a friend or colleague? That goes for any profession, I think, but especially for people in the medical field, who have to abide by strict confidentiality measures.

I also think that there’s a degree of sensitivity that was missing from this doctor’s care. Obstetricians and gynecologists should be extremely sensitive to and cognizant of the differing life situations (as well as health conditions) of their patients. Or at least be smart enough to lock their Facebook accounts up so this kind of tacky unedited behavior doesn’t become public.

Although I must say that in this case, I’m glad it did become public. If the OB I was seeing while pregnant was the kind of person to post this sort of a Facebook status about me or another patient, I’d want to know about it. And I’d want the rest of the world to know about it, too.

Photo: Daily Dot

 

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  • brackenscott

    And I thought “my students are dumb” posts by teachers were bad…

  • Eileen

    Eh, I’m not too offended by this post. It’s not okay to show up hours late to appointments. Hell, if I’m more than nine minutes late for getting my underarms waxed, I’m billed and I don’t get an appointment unless there’s a walk-in – and that’s a procedure that costs $16, takes about ten minutes, and doesn’t require medical school, internship, and residency to be able to do. Dr. Dunbar didn’t cancel this woman’s appointments; she waited – which, by the way, I’m sure inconvenienced her other patients and could have cost her a lot. She’s already done more than most doctors would have for their patients. A little complaining – without revealing the patient’s personal information – doesn’t bother me at all.

  • Hannah

    It was probably vague enough to avoid confidentiality notices. I think we should consider the fact that Dr. Dunbar has obviously seen this patient several times before and probably knows her history better than someone speculating on the internet.
    I get serious anxiety before gyno appointments for reasons I’d rather not mention, but if that’s keeping me, I call and let them know. It’s really a simple courtesy that makes things run more smoothly for the clinic’s OTHER patients as well.

  • Kerry

    While I think a doctor posting anything about patients is inappropriate, this particular patient’s behavior is equally inappropriate. I find your arguments for her lateness unlikely, since it’s clearly a pattern of behavior. If she was having difficulty arranging transportation, she could have called the doctor’s office to inform someone. She wasted the valuable time of her doctor and disrupted the appointment schedule for all the other patients that were on time that day.

  • Paulin

    This Dr. obviously has a point. To me, the patient seems extremely irresponsible and childish. She has a prior stillbirth and yet she doesn’t bother to show, consistently, to her gyno appointments? Worse yet, when she’s late she disrupts the appointments of other women, who did bother to show up, on time, because they care about the health of their babies. Dr.’s can only do so much for you. You are the one who has to take responsibility for your own health and the health of your infant. All this post shows to me is the frustration of medical professionals who have to deal with such childishly irresponsible morons, who have no problem being “offended” when they hear the truth about themselves and yet they can’t be bothered to show some common courtesy to their Dr.’s or to the other patients.

  • Lisa

    Why is it that we, in the medical profession, are not allowed to complain about our jobs too? Every other profession is allowed to post something about a stupid customer, nasty boss, unruly client, etc., but that is not allowed to the healthcare provider. Are we supposed to be some ultra-unemotional automatons who go about our day and tolerate whatever people dish at us without getting upset at all? No, yet we do our best to detach and give the benefit of a doubt to people. However, the flip side of this is would I have posted this myself: absolutely not because I know that most lay people out there do not accept this type of behavior from us and would not understand. As a provider though, I totally get it.

  • Eardoc

    There was no identifiying patient information and the actions described were generic enough. Let it go. Jeez.

  • ES

    Maybe you’re being overly sensitive! The patient is anonymous and it is ridiculously rude to be late for appointments. I think you’re being a jerk for digging for backlash for something so inconsequential. Shame on you!

  • John

    I find it incredibly unprofessional of Blisstree to post this article without names being omitted. These medical professionals’ behavior, although tacky, does not warrant a HIPPA violation, while Blisstree’s disclosure of this conversion could potentially merit a legal claims for public disclosure of private facts, intrusion into seclusion, and misappropriation of name or likeness. The Drs here agreed to disclosure terms with Facebook, not with third parties like Blisstree.

    • http://blisstree.com/ Carrie Murphy

      John, this story has been covered by several other media outlets as well, including the original source, The Daily Dot, as well as ABC News, Jezebel, and the Riverfront Times.

    • john

      Ah yes, it’s everywhere. Sorry I did not do my research. I thought you might be posting some non-public information. Still though, I think this story would be just as relevant and informative and much less inflammatory if the names were omitted.

  • watchwhatyoupost

    It’s ok for Dr’s to vent, but once she started giving out specifics about the patient, it becomes a violation. I am sure many of her patients are late, but scheduled for an induction on this date at this time and is 3 hours late, prior stillbirth history, along with the Dr’s very own name are specific clues to this patients identity. She should have been a little more vague.

  • cupcakemuffin

    Honestly, this doc’s behavior doesn’t bother me too much. It was somewhat unprofessional, although I’m unclear as to how news outlets, etc. got ahold of it. If this person had a totally public Facebook profile, then that’s more the issue (who does that in this day and age?!) If a miffed friend leaked it, then I think the issue is more with the friend than with the doc who originally posted, expecting that it would be seen by only a limited forum who almost certainly have no relationship with the patient (and thus would not be able to figure out the target of the annoyance). I’m not a doc, but I do work in an area where I can tend to get really taken advantage of…just because someone is paying for a service does not mean they are 100% entitled to act however they want. The patient’s behavior WAS super disrespectful – if there were real life issues that caused problems, the very least she could have done was call to cancel/postpone. It is extremely rude to the doc, her staff, and the other patients not to do so, regardless of what else is happening.

  • Nat

    They didn’t break any rules. And she doesn’t deserved to be fired. Reprimanded? Yeah, ok. Fired? That’s going to far. Doctors can’t just transfer hospitals. What if she was never hired again? That’s over a decade of schooling and experience and hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain.. because of some poor judgement? Doctors rarely stay late and accommodate this behavior from patients. Maybe if the patient had been on time, she could have gone home to a spouse to blow of steam. Yes, it was inappropriate, but in no way does that warrant ruining her life. She broke no rules, she’s in the clear. And there are pregnant women and women who have had still births everywhere, no way anyone can deduce exactly who it is without *maybe* going through Dr. Dunbar’s files which actually is illegal.

  • Nat

    They didn’t break any rules. And she doesn’t deserved to be fired. Reprimanded? Yeah, ok. Fired? That’s going to far. Doctors can’t just transfer hospitals. What if she was never hired again? That’s over a decade of schooling and experience and hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain.. because of some poor judgement? Doctors rarely stay late and accommodate this behavior from patients. Maybe if the patient had been on time, she could have gone home to a spouse to blow of steam. Yes, it was inappropriate, but in no way does that warrant ruining her life. She broke no rules, she’s in the clear. And there are pregnant women and women who have had still births everywhere, no way anyone can deduce exactly who it is without *maybe* going through Dr. Dunbar’s files which actually is illegal.

  • Nat

    They didn’t break any rules. And she doesn’t deserved to be fired. Reprimanded? Yeah, ok. Fired? That’s going to far. Doctors can’t just transfer hospitals. What if she was never hired again? That’s over a decade of schooling and experience and hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain.. because of some poor judgement? Doctors rarely stay late and accommodate this behavior from patients. Maybe if the patient had been on time, she could have gone home to a spouse to blow of steam. Yes, it was inappropriate, but in no way does that warrant ruining her life. She broke no rules, she’s in the clear. And there are pregnant women and women who have had still births everywhere, no way anyone can deduce exactly who it is without *maybe* going through Dr. Dunbar’s files which actually is illegal.

  • meteor_echo

    You know, I think it’s absolutely fucking rude to be late for medical appointments. Not only did she make the doctors wait, she also caused other people to wait in the line for a long time. Sorry, but the doctor is absolutely correct – this patient is messed up and doesn’t have an ounce of common courtesy and politeness in her.

  • http://twitter.com/laurenislost Lauren Lever

    It is a joke. Locate your sense of humor, unwrap and use it, please.

  • Kimberly

    Regardless if she legally violated doctor/patient confidentiality, her decision to “vent” via social media was character assassination. Even if she is not fired, her reputation and the reputation of the hospital are now muddied. If she stays, the hospital will come off looking as though they condone and support such behavior. Legally she may not lose her job, but it would not suprise me to hear that her list of patients has had a sudden decrease.

  • Kimberly

    Regardless if she legally violated doctor/patient confidentiality, her decision to “vent” via social media was character assassination. Even if she is not fired, her reputation and the reputation of the hospital are now muddied. If she stays, the hospital will come off looking as though they condone and support such behavior. Legally she may not lose her job, but it would not suprise me to hear that her list of patients has had a sudden decrease.

  • Jen

    Meh. I’d tend to agree with the doctor’s outrage. This patient has had a prior stillbirth and is consistently late to all appointments (not 1 or 2), to the very expensive and laborious process of repeat NSTs (often at the expense of those who have been booked into the ultrasound that day), and hasn’t even bothered to show up for an induction? Her body, her baby, her unwise choices?

    No, I don’t think it’s fair to the patient to have this screen-shotted and tossed around — but it’s also not fair on EVERY OTHER PATIENT in the practice to have to make amends make cancellations and new appointments because *1* patient places herself over everyone else.

    I’ve had to wait hours for a doctor because 1 patient was 30 minutes late and didn’t want to reschedule so everyone else was pushed back — a domino effect.