Modern Family: S10/E7 Disclosing Pregnancy Results

This blog post does contain spoilers for episode seven/season ten of Modern Family— you’ve been warned!

On a recent episode of the wildly popular ABC series Modern Family  (which I personally thoroughly enjoy) it was disclosed that Haley Dunphy is pregnant. However, the way her pregnancy was disclosed was a violation of patient privacy.

In the episode, Haley and her boyfriend, Dylan, are playing bumper cars when he playfully rear ends her while she’s applying lipstick (yes, in the bumper car). The end of the lipstick gets shoved up her nose and breaks off leading to a trip to the ER.

Evidently, Haley was given anesthesia to remove the piece of lipstick from her nose. They also x-rayed the nose (at some point) because they tell her it’s not broken. There’s some witty banter about how the injury happened and that she and Dylan want to remain childlike as long as possible which is when the doctor says, “Oh, we did a pregnancy test prior to your anesthesia and you’re pregnant.” This was done via a blood test.

Problem One: There’s really no reason to give anesthesia in this case. We remove foreign objects from pediatric noses all the time and never give anesthesia. Anesthesia is reserved for the OR. Sometimes, a patient might need a little something to chill them out for a procedure, for which we would use nasal Versed or Fentanyl. You don’t need to start an IV and recovery is not too long.

Problem Two: Not even sure why they needed to do an x-ray for a broken off end of lipstick in the nose. I don’t think the mechanism of injury warrants even thinking the nose is broken. Lipstick is soft after all.

Problem Three: A blood test used to determine pregnancy. This is rarely done and would be used more specific to determining pregnancy where problems in early pregnancy might be the concern— such as ectopic pregnancy or early pregnancy miscarriage. In this case, a urine test would suffice.

Problem Four: These days, disclosing pregnancy results must be done very carefully. As healthcare professionals, we don’t know who the male is at the bedside and if the patients wants that male to know about the pregnancy or not. The doctor should have asked Dylan to step out of the room as she disclosed the results to Haley. Then it’s Haley’s decision about whether or not to tell her boyfriend. The same is true if we discover a teen is pregnant in the ER who might be there with her parents. The parents are asked to step out and we’ll tell the teen. It’s up to her whether or not to disclose the results to her parents. We as healthcare professionals will encourage her to do so, but it is ultimately her decision.

I think the best way to have handled this situation would have been to perform the pregnancy test prior to her getting an x-ray of her nose, but even this would be a little outside the norm because shielding her abdomen would have been easy in this scenario.

Author Beware: The Law– HIPAA (Part 2/3)

Situations involving minors can be an easy way to increase conflict in your manuscript. Here is an easy area to use.

Minors presenting to the ED for evaluation of a pregnancy or STD related complaint.

Here’s a set-up. Mother brings her 14 y/o daughter in to “get checked for pregnancy”. Okay, great. Already we have inherent conflict. After all, if the daughter was in agreement about allowing her mother to know this information, they could have done a home pregnancy test and matter solved.

At times, parents will bring their children to the ER thinking that, because they’ve signed them in as a patient and they’re the parent, we’ll have to do as they ask and they’ll learn the information that way.

This isn’t the case. Will we do the pregnancy test? Maybe. The patient has to be willing. Will we relay the pregnancy test results to the parent? If the 14 y/o patient says “no” then we will not.

Most states have laws surrounding minors and issues related to pregnancy or STD’s is protected information and can only be released to the patient. Depending on the state, the cut-off is 13 or 14 years. This is different from us giving information about a follow-up culture for strep throat.

I’ve had parents call back for these types of test results. Nope, can’t give you the information.

Another area is that minor patients can sign themselves into the ER without parental consent for these matters as well. Generally, for all other conditions, we have to make attempts to get the parent on the phone for verbal consent witnessed by two individuals.

What do we do?

As healthcare providers, we really do try and facilitate open dialogue between the parent and child. We’ll sit with the 14 y/o daughter privately and go over why it would be best for her to share this information, regardless of the results, with an adult.

Can you think of other healthcare situations involving minors that could be high areas of conflict?