Reality TV doesn't get more raw than in an emergency room drama, where cameras follow bloodied and distraught patients and the medical teams fighting to save their lives. The ABC show NY Med was one of those shows.
In a decision that could end this macabre brand of reality TV, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, which was the site of a NY Med episode a few years ago, has been ordered to shell out a $2.2 million fine to a grieving family.
The hospital stands accused of letting a NY Med film crew capture the last moments of a man who died in 2011 after being hit by a garbage truck, the New York Times reported. The facility has also been fined for allowing the filming of another patient in distress, also for NY Med.
The patients did not give their consent to be featured on NY Med, according to the complaint and ruling by the Office of Civil Rights.
"(The hospital) allowed the ABC crew to film someone who was dying and another person in significant distress, even after a medical professional urged the crew to stop..."
NY Med was an eight-part series for ABC that aired in 2012 and 2014. Dr. Mehmet Oz featured on the show.The incident took place at the hospital in 2011. A Manhattan man named Mark Chanko came into the emergency room that April, suffering injuries sustained when he was hit by a garbage truck, CNBC reported.
The NY Med cameras kept rolling as the medical team tried to save Chanko's life, but he died. The next year, his widow, Anita, was watching the show and recognized her dying husband despite the fact that his face and voice had been disguised.
Chanko's son, Kenneth, filed a complaint against the hospital about the NY Med filming in January 2013; the complaint was made to the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (the footage of the man's death removed from the show's website, DVDs, and future viewings).
The case was resolved last week, the office announced.
"This case sends an important message that O.C.R. will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients' privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization," said the office's director, Jocelyn Samuels."
By allowing NY Med to use Chanko's trauma and subsequent death as fodder for a TV show, the crew violated HIPAA, a federal patient privacy law otherwise known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and overseen by the Office for Civil Rights. This law prohibits the media from accessing patients' health information without authorization.
The office said it's not enough for a hospital to ask the media to "mask the identities of patients" as an alternative to obtaining the person's authorization.
The ruling and fine has also led to some clarification of the rules going forward: health care providers are no longer allowed to invite film crews into treatment areas without permission from all patients.
And this aspect of the case could be the death knell for reality TV shows that film real-life medical traumas in hospitals. The current practice for such shows is to obtain permission afterward. Dr. Joel Geiderman, the co-chairman of the emergency medicine department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, predicted this consequence of the fine and ruling.
"I think this will have a chilling effect on hospitals going forward. Any hospital legal counsel worth his salt or any P.R. director would be committing malpractice in order to allow it to occur. It's now embodied in a federal directive."
The hospital denies violating HIPAA and said it participated in NY Med to "educate the public" and show them the realities and daily challenges of providing medical care. The show was critically acclaimed, it continued, and raised public awareness of public health issues.
Chanko's son said his family was "very grateful, happy, relieved" by the ruling against NY Med and the hospital where his father died on camera.
"I'm almost at a loss of words because we're just so grateful that action was taken and this will have a national impact on hospitals."
[Image via sfam_photo/Shutterstock]