Nova Scotia

Nurses raise privacy concerns with surge in patients recording video in hospitals

Nurses in Nova Scotia are becoming fed up with people using their cellphones to record them while they work, a growing problem that can distract health workers from their jobs and violates patients' privacy, according to the head of a nursing union.

'We want our health-care workers to be doing their job, not worrying about who's taking their picture'

Nurses and doctors say many patients are using their cellphones to record what goes on in hospitals and clinics. (WathanyuSowong/Shutterstock)

Nurses in Nova Scotia are becoming fed up with people using their cellphones to record them while they work, a growing problem that can distract health workers from their jobs and violates patients' privacy, according to the head of a nursing union.

From trying to film health-care staff delivering a baby to recording a family member waking up from anesthesia or narrating their wait times in hospital, people are constantly turning their phones on health-care workers.   

It's making nurses "really uneasy," said Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union.

"I think we'd all be that way, with someone taking pictures of you doing your job or videotaping you doing your job. You become very self-conscious," said Hazelton. 

"And you worry, you know, what are they going to do with it? You worry about your patients because they have rights as well. It's just one more thing that we have to think about and potentially gets us a bit distracted."

It's a phenomenon that's grown as the popularity of cellphones exploded. Almost every day someone in the province is using their phone to snap a picture or record a video of nurses while they work, said Hazelton. She'd like to see a rule put in place restricting cellphone use, but so far that hasn't happened. 

Janet Hazelton is president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union. (CBC)

In the worst-case scenario, cellphone recordings can be so disruptive they actually delay people getting the care they need. 

"If the recording or picture-taking is so intrusive that the care provider can't safely do their job, they may need to stop providing care in that instance, unless it's an emergency situation," said Karen Hornberger, the provincial director of privacy for Nova Scotia's health authority. 

But there isn't much the health authority can do to stop it. Hornberger said a health worker's main recourse is simply asking the person to put their phone away. If they refuse to do so, the health authority's hands are tied.

"There's very little we can do to actually get patients to stop recording the interactions. In Canada they do have the right to do that," said Hornberger. "That's my understanding from our legal services team." 

However, that mainly applies to a patient recording their own interactions with medical staff. If they start recording other patients, the health authority can step in because the recording would violate other people's privacy.

Hazelton says most patients have no ill intent when they record nurses at work and will stop if asked, but there are some who refuse to do so. (Richard Buchan/Canadian Press)

"Capturing images of everyone who's there in the hospital at that time, that we would not allow and we would ask them to delete it and we would treat it like a privacy breach and investigate it as such," said Hornberger.

If that kind of video or image was put on social media, the health authority would contact the site's administrators to have it removed.   

Many nurses are discovering images and videos of themselves posted on social media, even though they never agreed to it, said Hazelton. 

Physicians aren't immune either, said Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie, an obstetrician and gynecologist who is president of Doctors Nova Scotia, an association that represents physicians in the province.

"I have the right not to be put on social media if that's not something I'm comfortable with," she said. "We certainly ask people in our labour and delivery rooms not to video us or photograph us as part of the experience." 

Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie is president of Doctors Nova Scotia. (Doctors Nova Scotia)

She said if people want a picture with her after she delivers a baby she's fine with that, but they have to ask first. McQuarrie said clear communication is key in helping people understand there are times when a cellphone shouldn't be used. 

McQuarrie said people need to talk with their health-care providers about when and why they want to use their cellphones. 

She said sometimes the devices can be helpful, like when a person wants to record a conversation with their doctor so they can recall important details later. 

A person may also want a recording because they have trouble understanding English, or may feel uncomfortable with a health-care worker and want a record of their meeting. 

Others may make recordings because they believe staff are not providing the level of care they believe is appropriate, said Hazelton. 

Whatever the reason, McQuarrie believes discussing cellphone use with patients and their loved ones will help. 

"It would be better if we could all agree on the use of video and recordings, but I think we always need to look and understand why is that person recording that encounter? And find ways to work with them. So if they're doing it in a way that isn't safe for other patients, risks the confidentiality of others ... then we need to find ways around it," she said.

Both Hazelton and MacQuarrie say cellphones can be helpful to patients if used correctly. Both say people should ask for permission before recording or taking pictures of anyone. (AFP via Getty Images)

Hazelton said the phones also help people have a vital link with the outside world while waiting for appointments or working to recover in hospital. 

Most people don't have any ill intent when they're taking pictures or record videos of nurses, they're only focused on seeing their loved one, and nurses just happen to be there, said Hazelton.   

When asked, most people will put their phones away until staff can finish their work. Only a few refuse. 

"Ask permission, 'Can I take your photo?' You know, ask the patient's permission, you know, don't assume. Ask the nurses' their permission, and if people say, 'No, I'd prefer you not,' then respect that," said Hazelton. "We want our health-care workers to be doing their job, not worrying about who's taking their picture."

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