A man left the voice recorder on his phone on during his colonoscopy — and was completely shocked to learn what his medical team said about him while he was sedated. (Photo: Flickr/James Cridland)
It was mostly an accident that one Virginia man left his smartphone’s voice recorder on during his colonoscopy on April 18, 2013. He had only meant to capture post-op instructions, since he would be at least partially sedated when they were going to be given.
But on his way home, he realized he had actually recorded the whole examination — and what he heard was shocking. According to The Washington Post, who obtained the audio recording, when the patient nodded off to sleep for the procedure, the insults and mockery by his medical team began.
You’ve got to hear it to believe it: Listen to the insulting comments made by the man’s surgery team. (Video: GMA)
“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,” his anesthesiologist, Dr. Tiffany Ingham, reportedly says in the recording. When Ingham’s assistant points out a rash, the doctor tells her not to get “some syphilis on your arm or something,” before adding, “It’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you’ll be all right.” The group also joked about the patient having Ebola.
The phone recorded doctors talking trash about him, under the assumption he would never hear them.
But he did. And so did the court, after he sued the two doctors who performed the procedure for defamation and medical malpractice. Following a three-day trial, Ingham, along with her practice, were ultimately ordered to pay the man $500,000 in total damages. The other doctor, the gastroenterologist, was dismissed from the case.
Dr. Tiffany Ingham, the anesthesiologist named in the lawsuit. (Photo: 123 Airlift Wing of National Guard)
After the man, known only as D.B. in court documents for the purpose of anonymity, mentions the anesthesia needle makes him “queasy,” Ingham reportedly calls him a “retard.” She also reportedly instructs her assistant to lie to him and avoid him after the procedure, as well as write a false diagnosis in his records.
“I’m going to mark hemorrhoids, even though we don’t see them and probably won’t,” Ingham can be heard saying. “I’m just gonna take a shot in the dark.”
While Ingham’s lawyers argued in court that recording that in-op conversation should have never been allowed, the patient’s attorneys said that, according to Virginia’s one-party consent law, only one person involved in a conversation needs to OK a recording.
D.B. was awarded $100,000 for defamation — $50,000 for the comments about syphilis and another $50,000 for the comments about tuberculosis — as well as $200,000 for medical malpractice and $200,000 for punitive damages. And while this case certainly speaks to those issues, it also highlights the importance of a basic code of conduct between patient and doctor.
The American Medical Association has a Code of Medical Ethics that discusses patient-physician relation matters, according to Darria Long Gillespie, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University and national spokesperson for the Academy of Emergency Medical Physicians. And most doctors do realize they are dealing with human patients — with emotions, and bad days, and real health issues — and that these patients are entrusting their personal care to them.
“As a physician, I abide by a code of medical ethics, as well as just common professionalism,” Gillespie tells Yahoo Health. “My patients are putting their trust in me, not just to provide medical care, but courtesy and respect. Both I and the physicians I work with always try to remain respectful of patients and their needs at all times.”
Indeed, one lawyer specializing in defamation told The Post he’d never heard of a case like this one. Hopefully, they are rare. One of the jurors said he felt they had to award the patient something, “just to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
According to reports, the patient did reportedly let his medical team know he was suffering from a mild rash, and had difficulties in the past with anesthesia. Also according to the report, Ingham called the man “a big wimp,” saying, “people are into their medical problems. They need to have medical problems.”
The American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics perhaps sums up best what was lacking in this case. In section 10.01, it states, “The patient has the right to courtesy, respect, dignity, responsiveness, and timely attention to his or her needs.”
Ultimately, says the Code in section 10.015, “The practice of medicine, and its embodiment in the clinical encounter between a patient and a physician, is fundamentally a moral activity that arises from the imperative to care for patients and to alleviate suffering.”