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Home > Topics > EMS Management
October 21, 2010
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Is technology eroding our sense of right and wrong?

The case of a firefighter taking graphic cell phone video of a fatal crash highlights issues for EMS

By Arthur Hsieh

OK readers, help me to understand the logic behind this senseless act of lunacy.

This week it emerged that a firefighter in Georgia took graphic cell phone video of a fatal crash that was shared with other firefighters, patrons at a bar and was later received by the father of the woman who died.

Our sister site, FireRescue1, reports that the firefighter has since been placed on "investigatory suspension."

As a public safety provider, the public trusts us to take care of them and loved ones when they are having a bad day. They let us come into their homes, their offices, and let us touch them, ask intimate questions, and begin painful, invasive procedures with nearly blind faith.

So, how is it that we think that it's perfectly fine to take videos and photos of scenes? More importantly, it's pretty clear that the personnel involved didn't think twice about showing the footage to other people, including those who aren't in the profession and may not have a clue about sensitive issues such as these.

I'm not a Luddite when it comes to today's technology and Web 2.0 socio-cultural concepts. It's easier today for me to keep track of friends and family, access research, news and commentary, and explore the world of information that is the Web.

But it's just technology, folks. The underlying ethics of revealing confidential information that is protected by federal law hasn't changed. The morals surrounding the advocacy of patient rights are still the same, right?

So why is it that some of us think that they aren't? I fear that technology has eroded our sense of what is right and wrong behavior. With the multitude of stories that are coming out about poor behavior from our ranks, we are rapidly losing the public's trust in our ability to be professional, compassionate care providers.

And yes, that means we police ourselves. There were at least TWO people involved with the recording of the death scene, and at least TWO providers involved with its spread on the Internet.

There wasn't apparently an inkling of guilt among ANY of them about the fact that what they were doing was morally and ethically wrong. Not one of them thought how this could hurt the surviving family in any way. All it would have taken is one of them to say, "Wow, I don't think this is right."

Employers: If you do NOT have a policy surrounding the use of recording technology and social media, or you are NOT enforcing the policy, you are open to potentially serious liability.

HIPAA regulations forbid the disclosure of protected, identifying information about a patient. Isn't the video recording or photograph of a patient or a location "identfying?"

 We must view any violation like this as similar to that of violating federal law in these matters. Until then, some folks will think that this is merely some type of amusement that they are entitled to do at any time.

And, if you are one of those folks: You sir or madam, are an idiot.

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. In the profession since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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