ABC Documentary Leads to Settlement

Veriphyr proactively reports impermissible use of PHI the first time it happens. 

ABC’s 2015 documentary series, “Save My Life: Boston Trauma”, resulted in the investigation of three prestigious Boston teaching hospitals. Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Boston Medical Center were accused of compromising patient privacy by allowing television crews to film inside their facilities.


Patient Privacy Protected

The hospitals defended themselves, stating that they did receive proper consent from the patients.  ABC signed a contract with the hospitals, agreeing to get explicit written consent from any patients featured in the documentary.

Harvard Medical School Dean at the time, Jeffrey Flier, said he specifically reviewed and confirmed the strength of the patient privacy policies of the two Harvard affiliated hospitals when he heard they would be the focus of an ABC documentary.


No Patients Were Harmed

Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s, the hospitals affiliated with Harvard, jointly released a statement saying no patients had complained about the filming.

Their statement continued, 

“the hospitals believe that working with the media is a vital means of educating and informing the public about medicine and health care, reinforcing messages about disease and prevention, and providing reassurance to those who may one day require the expertise and skill of a trauma center’’ (a). 

Even so, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Human Rights faulted the hospitals for the timing of the consent forms.



HIPAA violations are costly. Time, money, and human labor are all at risk when hospitals come under fire for patient privacy violations. In the interest of avoiding such costs, the three Boston hospitals agreed to settle for $1 million total.

Massachusetts General Hospital agreed to pay the most, $515,000.  Brigham and Women’s Hospital paid $384,000, and Boston Medical Center paid $100,000. In addition, the hospitals committed to train employees about media coverage and patient privacy.

OCR was likely motivated to target this specific case because it involved high profile players. This is not the first time that ABC news has come under criticism for their medical documentaries. 


Advanced Data Analytics

Small, lower profile hospitals, still take high risks when patient privacy is not fully protected. Thankfully, Veriphyr’s advanced data analytics can minimize that risk by spotting impermissible use of patient data the first time it happens.



(a) 3 Boston Hospitals Reach $1 Million Settlement Over Patient Privacy in ABC Series – September 20, 2018