Should You Videotape a Healthcare Worker Without Their Consent?

Recently, I became aware of a story that broke my heart. Perhaps you heard of it, too. A WWII veteran called for help multiple times and when the call light is finally answered, the nurses delay giving him lifesaving measures and are even seen laughing at his bedside. Two nurses, appropriately so, lost their licenses. You can view the video and read about the story here. Also, this case that just aired on ABC news within the last few days of elder abuse by nursing staff  caught on hidden camera as well.

This is a very touchy subject and I don’t necessarily have a strong statement to make, but I do have a cautionary tale. I understand both sides and I’m glad these nurses were caught so that no other patient suffered needlessly. However, I also know that I would feel completely violated if I was videotaped or recorded without my knowledge.

When I worked as a Pediatric ICU nurse, a family chose to videotape the staff without their knowledge. The family was critical of the staff in general and it really was a no win situation. Then news came out that they had been videotaping the patient’s care. Our managers at the time approached them and requested they stop. In all the footage, and I don’t know how much there was, the staff wasn’t seen doing anything inappropriate.

In writing fiction, we always talk about increasing tension and conflict. I can tell you from personal experience that this will definitely do it.

In real life, if you or a family member make a decision that this is a necessary step to take, I would ask yourself why you’re making this choice. Considering this means you already think something is wrong. If that’s the case, is this the right doctor or hospital to be working with?

Taking this step is very serious. At the very least, it will likely destroy any trust between you and the medical staff. Sometimes, that’s hard to get back. Legally, you should discuss whatever option you’re considering (secretly recording a conversation, etc) with a lawyer. Different states look at this issue differently. There might be a hospital policy in place against. There are patient privacy concerns (the recording picking up another patient’s information). Also, it might actually have the reverse effect. When medical people know they are being more scrutinized, the added stress can make it more likely for them to make a mistake.

I think several things can be done before this to allay or address a family’s concerns. Any good hospital will take a family’s concerns very seriously. If they don’t, then there are places to go with your concern. For instance, concerns for elder abuse can be reported to state regulatory boards.

Here are my thoughts if you’re concerned your family member is not being taken care of appropriately.

1. A family member should be at the bedside 24/7. I know this may not be feasible for everyone, but having a family member at the bedside does keep staff on their toes. Ask questions. Keep notes. One problem I do have with the current state of medicine is that the providers don’t seem to read one another’s notes so important facts may not be shared. I had a personal experience with my husband with this very thing. If you can’t find someone to sit at the bedside, check in a couple of times per shift via phone with your loved one’s bedside nurse and try to be there in the morning when they make rounds.

2. Tell your nurse that you have a problem right when it occurs. State it clearly. Plainly. Rationally discuss what your concern is. If the response from the bedside nurse isn’t satisfactory, then ask to talk to the charge nurse. If that doesn’t help, ask to talk to the unit manager or nursing supervisor. You can speak to a patient care representative. If it’s a concern about the doctor, your bedside nurse should be the one who will advocate for you in that situation. Do not stay silent about your concerns. Big or small— please speak up.

3. You can request alternative staff to take care of your loved one. This is easier on the nursing side. Sometimes, your personality and the nurse’s personality don’t mix. That’s life. We don’t get along 100% with everyone. Is it a personality issue or do you think the nurse is providing bad care? Making a distinction between the two will help the charge nurse or supervisor decide what the best action is to take. For instance, a conflict of personalities, maybe it’s not best to put the same type of nurse in there.

4. Pay attention when you are admitted to the hospital about calling an RRT. An RRT stands for Rapid Response Team. Usually they are made up of a team of ER doctors, ICU doctors, and critical care nurses who will come to the bedside an do an independent evaluation of the patient and suggest a treatment course. Bedside nurses can call these, but many hospitals are making sure families know they can do this as well. The time to use this is when you feel your family member is getting sicker, but the bedside staff isn’t listening to your concerns in a way that makes you comfortable. It allows another set of eyes and ears on the patient and more medical opinions can be discussed.

5. If you’re a medical provider, you should report sub par staff to that person’s supervisor. This is all of our responsibilities. If you feel you can’t do that, then leave an anonymous message to your organization’s corporate compliance hotline. As they say, document and report.

What do you think about videotaping medical staff without their knowledge? Are you for it? Against it? Why?