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Sherman Says: Baby pictures on doctors’ walls now illegal in the government’s eyes

Parents of all ages love the opportunity to show off photos of their newborns. Wallet-size prints have been replaced by cellphone snapshots but the thought remains the same.

That pride is often shared by the doctors, nurses and staff who help bring these babies into the world. They become part of an extended family. It’s only natural that moms and dads bring photos of their children to the doctor’s office for public display, creating sort of a “wall of fame” for all to admire.

Sadly, those days are over.

As part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, baby photos are a type of protected health information, no less than a medical chart, birth date or Social Security number, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. This story secured page one status in Sunday’s New York Times.

“Even if a parent sends in the photo, it is considered private unless the parent also sends written authorization for its posting, which almost no one does,” according to the Times.

How sad.

Knowing the difficult times my wife and I endured prior to the birth of our two children, that collage of kids behind the receptionist in the gynecologist’s office was a source of hope and inspiration. We could not wait to have our children’s hospital pictures added to the wall. As proud as we were, I felt I might be lifting someone else’s spirits when the newest Shermans joined the gallery.

“For me, the face of a baby, that is really an anonymous face,” said Dr. Pasquale Patrizio, director of the Yale Fertility Center in New Haven. “It was representative of so much happiness, so much comfort, so much reassurance. It is purely a clinical office now.”

Rachel Seeger, a spokeswoman for the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Times that the displays were illegal. She said that a patient’s photograph that identifies him/her cannot be posted in public areas unless there is “specific authorization from the patient or personal representative.”

Almost everyone enjoys baby photos and a medical office is the ideal setting to display them. Attorneys and bureaucrats are interfering in our personal lives in a new, cold-hearted manner.

Yet not every medical professional is marching to the same hardcore beat.

Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of the division of gynecology at Mount Sinai Roosevelt in Manhattan, still displays baby pictures in an exam room. He told the Times that physicians have to have some common sense in dealing with HIPAA.

“To leave medical records open to the public, to throw lab results in the garbage without shredding them, that makes sense to prohibit,” he said. “But if somebody wants to post a picture of something that’s been going on for a millennium and is a tradition, it seems strange to me not to do that.”

It is shameful that a government agency can deny a mother or father from paying tribute to a medical staff by voluntarily having a photo pinned to a cork board. What right does it have to prevent parents from beaming with pride when they finally have been blessed with a child?

No one forces the parents to provide a picture. Those who do not want to participate in the tradition are under no obligation. That sounds like the definition of freedom to me.

Carrying this time-wasting debate a bit further, is a child’s privacy being violated when mom or dad post that same photo on social media instead of on an office wall? If any sane parent shares any photo of their child, in any way, consent has been given.

I hope my wife’s doctor never removes her office collage of kids’ photos. She helped us become parents, an accomplishment I have shared since then with everyone I have ever met.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)
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