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UCLA bans cellphones at hospital

The school's Resnick neuropsychiatric unit acts to guard privacy after photos of patients wound up online.

March 18, 2008|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

UCLA's neuropsychiatric hospital has banned all cellphones and laptop computers after a patient posted group photos of other patients on a social networking website, officials confirmed Monday.

Dr. Thomas Strouse, medical director of the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, said in a statement that the decision was part of "UCLA Health System's ongoing efforts to enhance patient privacy and confidentiality in compliance with California's patient rights law."

Separately, The Times reported last week that UCLA was taking steps to fire at least 13 workers and had suspended six others for inappropriately snooping in the electronic medical records of pop star Britney Spears while she was a patient in the neuropsychiatric hospital. In addition, six doctors were being disciplined. (Those slated to be fired did not look at records from Spears' psychiatric stay but rather from her prior visits to UCLA.)

Spears was not featured in the photos posted online.

UCLA spokeswoman Dale Tate said the hospital became aware of the posted photos coincidentally from a nurse's family member. The patients apparently all gave their consent to be photographed, Tate said.

"I was concerned about the potential covert use of such cameras, without the consent of those being photographed, or under circumstances where someone's agreement to be photographed might not be well-reasoned or fully competent," Strouse said in the statement.

Patients continue to have access to conventional telephones in the hospital, and Strouse said their ability to keep in touch with family and friends should not be affected.

In a March 3 memo announcing the ban, Strouse wrote that he did not want to ask staff members to check whether cellphones or laptops had cameras, so he decided to ban them all.

Other hospitals have banned cellphone cameras as well. Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego forbade employees from carrying cellphones in patient-care areas after investigators found images of children, taken at the hospital, on a respiratory therapist's computer and cellphone. The therapist later pleaded guilty to child molestation and exhibiting a minor in pornography. Visitors can have cellphones, but "if they're using the camera feature on their cellphones, they're only allowed to take pictures of their child and nobody else," hospital spokesman Ben Metcalf said.

Officials at the California Hospital Assn. said they are hearing more and more hospitals express concern over how to deal with cellphone cameras. "There's been a heightened awareness of the problem for the past year or two," said Lois Richardson, the group's vice president and legal counsel. "However, I haven't seen any hospitals that have been able to come up with a good, workable tactical solution to the problem."

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charles.ornstein@latimes.com

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