The phone was smart; the anesthesiologist maybe not so much.
A Vienna, Virginia resident won a $500,000 claim against his Maryland anesthesiologist after his phone recorded her verbally thrashing him while he was sedated and undergoing a medical procedure.
The patient had gone in for a routine colonoscopy. Claiming that he did not want to miss any of his post-operative instructions while coming out from under the effects of anesthesia, he started his smartphone’s recording feature and put the phone back in his pants before going under.
Unbeknownst to anyone in the surgical suite, his clothes followed him into the operating room and his smartphone listened as the anesthesiologist started in.
“After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op, I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit,” said Tiffany M. Ingham, the Maryland anesthesiologist responsible for ensuring the patient’s safety and comfort throughout the procedure. She also commented that the rash on the man’s genitals might be “tuberculosis in the penis” and cautioned an assistant to avoid it, lest she get “some syphilis on [her] arm or something.” Ingham also falsified the man’s medical records by noting that he suffered from hemorrhoids when he, in fact, did not.
The banter continued as an assistant remarked that the man stated the possibility of queasiness when watching a needle being placed in his arm. Ingham, not yet finished, quipped “Well, why are you looking then, retard?”
While the remarks may have drawn laughter in the surgical suite, Ingham wasn’t aware that she was giving a very expensive stand-up comedy routine. The syphilis and tuberculosis jokes each cost her $50,000. She would also be fined $200,000 for medical malpractice and another $200,000 in punitive damages; $50,000 of which would be paid by her practice, Aisthesis of Bethesda, Maryland.
Experts note that this type of defamation of character is unique as the conversations were not publicly broadcasted and took place in the isolation of a surgical suite. However, given the presence of three doctors in the room, it is entirely possible that a statement from one could have been taken as fact by anyone else at the time.
Regardless of the technicalities, however, former president of the Academy of Anesthesiology Kathryn E. McGoldrick sums things up very concisely. “These types of conversations are not only offensive but frankly stupid, because we can never be certain that our patients are asleep and wouldn’t have recall.”
Ingham’s confidence in her ability would have to be absolute in order for her to disregard patient awareness as a possibility while under her care. Her mean-spirited comments and an inability to recognize an extra pair of pants in the surgical suite, however, cost her half a million dollars.