A Hospital Employee’s Offensive Tweets

We’ve written before about the “bring your own device to work” trend, commonly referred to as BYOD. Experts have cautioned about the potential risks employers face when allowing employees to bring devices that can be easily used to share and disseminate potentially confidential information. Now comes news of a Philadelphia-area hospital employee whose Twitter postings will no doubt cause more sleepless nights for medical-center HR and legal staffers.

Kathryn Knott, an emergency room technician at Lansdale Hospital in Lansdale, Pa., apparently liked to write about the patients and their medical conditions she encountered — and her personal opinion of their conditions — during the course of her work. Her Twitter posts include these gems (as reported by the Philadelphia Daily News):

“Babysitting a 36 yo 30pillxanax overdose and holding the urinal for him is definitely what I wanted to do today #winninglikeVegas.”
Knott’s June 10, 2013, photo of an X-ray of a busted pelvis is captioned, “why would you clean your gutters in the rain? #ouch.”
Another, on Feb. 20, 2013, shows a clear bag containing something lumpish. Its caption reads, “A patient gave me a bag of ice with his two fingers in it!” Yet another, posted on New Year’s Day 2013, shows a small spring – X-rayed in what appears to be an abdomen – captioned, “Kid had way too much fun at lacosta last night. Swallowed a pen spring. #rage.”
Knott’s Twitter postings came to light during the course of a police investigation of a brutal event involving her and a large group of friends, who were captured on video allegedly beating and verbally abusing a gay male couple in downtown Philadelphia recently. Knott, whose Twitter posts also included ones denigrating homosexuals, has been suspended from her job by Abington Health, which owns Lansdale Hospital:

 We can confirm that Kathryn Knott has been employed at Lansdale Hospital since May 2011. Because of the nature of the charges against her, she has been suspended from her job as an Emergency Room tech.”

Abington Health is also investigating her Twitter account.The tweets could violate the hospital’s patient-privacy and social-media policies, according to the statement from Abington Health

Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky interviewed a nurse who’s also a lawyer, who told her that while Knott’s tweets may be deeply unprofessional, they don’t appear to violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act because “patients’ names and other identifiable was not shared.” However, medical ethicist Art Caplan told Polaneczky that he disagrees. If there’s information in the tweets for others to deduce who’s being discussed, he said, then it’s a clear HIPAA violation and a legal liability.
Now is probably a good time for HR leaders in the healthcare industry to review their BYOD and social-media policies, and perhaps schedule some refresher training.