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Radiology Gossip On Facebook Leads To Court

May 18, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Practice Management
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A student witnessed a radiologic technician acting weird while on duty. The student talked about it with her sister, who told a coworker, who told the coworker’s sister, who told somebody else, who posted it on Facebook.

For which the school punished the student. After which the student filed a federal lawsuit.

Doesn’t anybody have any common sense anymore?

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cara Whitney, 22, of South Versailles, Pennsylvania (just southeast of Pittsburgh), filed a civil complaint in U.S. District Court on Friday. Whitney says she was a radiologic technologist student at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), also in the Pittsburgh area.

On January 24, the complaint says, she was assigned to shadow a radiologic technician at UPMC McKeesport hospital in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. The complaint says Whitney became concerned when she saw the technician, identified only as “Joe,” sleeping while the waiting room was full of patients, mistaking a computer mouse for a telephone, and asking her, out of the blue, if “she got the pizza.”

Whitney called her older sister, who according to the Associated Press works in health care, for advice on how to deal with the behavior. She did not identify the technician by name. The sister told Whitney to contact the technician’s hospital supervisor, which Whitney did. The complaint says the supervisor told Whitney she had done nothing wrong in consulting her sister.

However, without Whitney’s knowledge, the sister told a coworker about the call, thus beginning the chain of communication that ended in the Facebook post.

The complaint says that August B. Kellermann III, PhD, professor of radiology technology at CCAC, learned of the Facebook post and told Whitney in an e-mail that he “had serious concerns at this time that you potentially participated in a Facebook activity that may have potentially violated many policies.” (Whitney says she doesn’t even have a Facebook account.)

Later, according to the complaint, Dr. Kellermann told Whitney she had violated school policy, the provisions of two radiology ethics codes, and the agreement governing CCAC’s relationship with UPMC McKeesport. He told her she could either withdraw from the clinical course or get an F grade.

Instead, she chose option three: withdraw from the radiology program altogether and file a lawsuit alleging that CCAC had violated her due-process rights and breached its contract with her. (Before doing so, she consulted with CCAC Boyce Campus President Charles Martoni, PhD, who advised her not to appeal Dr. Kellermann’s decision.)

CCAC spokesman David Hoovler declined to specify which rules Whitney transgressed except to say:

It wasn’t limited just to the fact that it showed up on Facebook. It’s still something we’re looking into.

Neither the American Society of Radiologic Technologists’ Code of Ethics nor the American College of Radiology’s Code of Ethics includes any provision that seems germane to this case.

Frankly, I suspect the policy that actually applies here is: “Don’t do anything that might somehow, no matter how circuitously, cause some administrator to be embarrassed.”

Just in case Dr. Kellermann reads this: That last opinion is entirely my own. Before writing it, I did not communicate about this incident with anyone, including Cara Whitney, anyone who has ever met her, or anyone who has ever posted on Facebook.

Related seminar: Review for Practicing Radiologists


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