In what can only be described as an unethical act of incredible stupidity, Dr. Vinaya Puppala, a fellow in pain management at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, apparently posted pictures of one of that same hospital’s patients to Facebook and Instagram taken while she was unconscious in the emergency room.
Elena Chernyakova, 22, an aspiring actress and former Northwestern University standout, has filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit alleging Puppala, an “acquaintance” of her’s, came to her beside after being called for “moral support” when she was admitted to the emergency room after ingesting a large quantity of alcohol last summer. Also named in the lawsuit which seeks $1.5 million in damages are the Feinberg School of Medicine and the Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Invasion of privacy” is also the civil tort patients can often use for the basis of a lawsuit when HIPAA privacy violations occur since HIPAA itself does not create a basis for such lawsuits.
Of the two social media postings with the pictures Puppala sent, one said “Cuvee #bottle #service #gone #bad” and the other invited friends for rooftop cocktails across the street from the ER where Chernyakova was admitted for “alcohol poisoning.”
“Any invasion of privacy at the hands of our trusted health personnel or extended care team of training fellows is unacceptable and not indicative of the Patients’ First culture of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which has zero tolerance for exploitation of private health information, including photography,” the hospital said in a statement to ABCNews. The hospital also emphasized that Puppala acted “entirely on his own.” However, it appears the hospital was aware Puppala was taking pictures at the time they were taken. A security guard allegedly saw him take the pictures and directed him to delete them, which Puppala said he would do.
According to her website, Ms Chernyakova is an actress, model, and ex-professional tennis player from Moscow, Russia. She started acting in July 2012 after graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in Communication Studies, Business, and International Studies. She has appeared in several films and TV shows, including Superhero Me, Psychotic and Chicagolicious. Her lawsuit claims damages resulting from damage to her future career prospects and infliction of emotional distress.
Puppala could have even bigger problems should the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation take action against his medical license. Arguably Puppala violated HIPAA when he posted the pictures, despite the fact that Chernyakova was not actually his patient she WAS a patient in the hospital where he worked. He did not stop with photography however. He also allegedly accessed her medical record, which violates HIPAA unless he had permission to do so from Chernyakova. Regardless, if he used any of that information in his social media posts it was another HIPAA violation. State medical/nursing boards take a very dim view of social media HIPAA violations and it is rather common for them to suspend or revoke licenses as punishment. No word from the Illinois State Medical Disciplinary Board whether any investigation or action is expected.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital, puppala, lawsuit, facebook, Chicago, Vinaya Puppala