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A Chicago plastic surgeon is being sued by a former patient after allegedly posting before-and-after pictures of the woman's nasal reconstruction surgery on his website and labeling them "cocaine nose."
Sabrina Kopp claims that when she underwent facial surgery in 2004, her plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Walton took photographs of her face with the understanding that they would be part of her secure medical records, reports the Chicago Tribune. However, when the doctor opened a new clinic in 2013, the images of her procedure were posted on the clinic's website as an example of "cocaine nose."
What is "cocaine nose" and what laws might the doctor have broken by posting the pictures on his website?
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According to Walton's website, his clinic offers surgical treatment for the effects of chronic cocaine usage, which he refers to as "cocaine nose." These effects include perforations in the septum, loss of cartilage, scarring and eventual collapse of the nose.
Pictures of Kropp's face, which have since been removed from the website, were allegedly used as examples of both "cocaine nose" and the results of Dr. Walton's treatment of the condition.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
Under federal rules established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), an individual's medical records are confidential. Health care providers may not share personally identifiable medical information without a patient's consent.
Kropp's lawsuit claims that Walton failed to get her consent to use her pictures on his website. According to the suit, the pictures of her face posted on the website caused her "great harm" and that Walton should have known that publication of the photos would cause her to become "distressed, shamed, and embarrassed."
Breach of Confidentiality
The lawsuit also alleges that posting the photos was a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality. Generally, a physician's duty of confidentiality requires that communications between doctor and patient, medical records, and any conclusions the doctor reaches from examining the patient are confidential.
Disclosure of confidential information without the patient's consent is a breach of this duty of confidentiality.
In addition to Dr. Walton, Kropp's lawsuit also named the Walton's former employer, the University of Chicago Medical Center as well as the company who developed the clinic's website as defendants.