The Internet can be a wonderful thing, brimming with information and social media opportunities for people to “connect.” Facebook seems to be one of the leading formats for staying in contact with friends and sharing information about events and activities. But online predators and cyber stalkers are not the only dangers associated with the current technology; your EMS service can end up in some sticky situations due to Facebook as well.
Some Memphis EMS personnel recently found themselves in hot water after a paramedic posted on his Facebook page some pictures a fire department lieutenant took at an accident scene. A 5-year-old boy had gotten a nail stuck in his head when some wooden boards fell on him during an accident at his home; paramedics bandaged the wound but left the nail and a piece of wood in place while transporting the boy to the hospital. A firefighter at the scene took pictures of the boy and the paramedic later posted some of them on his Facebook page.
According to news reports, http://www.wreg.com/news/wreg-firefighters-in-trouble-over-facebook-posting-20110802,0,5987934.story, the young boy has made a good recovery. However, the fire lieutenant who took the pictures and the paramedic who posted them on Facebook were both disciplined by their employer for violating department rules regarding photographs.
Separate and apart from possible HIPAA considerations, this kind of activity by a paramedic has the potential for subjecting an EMS service to civil liability to the patient or his or her family. Although the terminology might vary from state to state, many jurisdictions would allow monetary damages under a situation like this under theories ranging from negligent infliction of emotional distress, extreme and outrageous conduct, and unauthorized publication of private facts. The potential for liability is even greater if a minor is involved.
If your EMS service doesn’t already have rules in place regarding the taking of photographs and, more importantly, about the publication or distribution of photographs on web sites or other media, you should consider prompt implementation of some clear rules regarding those matters. Of course, even with clear rules, there will still be the possibility that a rogue employee might violate the rules and publish a patient’s or accident victim’s photograph, but having some rules in place, and consistently disciplining violators, will give the EMS service as much protection from civil liability as possible.