Lights, Camera – Litigation? Filming in Delivery Rooms Causes Concerns About Possible Lawsuits

Operating RoomIn a digital world, we are more determined than ever to document important moments. Hence, the propensity of cameras in the delivery room, with parents hoping to capture the raw emotion of bringing a child into the world. This accompanies the recent trend of 'crowdbirthing,' in which several friends and family members are present for the birth of a loved one's child. In fact, a survey of 2,000 people conducted by Channel Mum revealed an average of eight people present in the delivery room for childbirth - a vast departure from the midwife-only births of yesteryear. But while hospitals have long imposed restrictions on the number of people allowed in delivery rooms, they're now also beginning to ban cameras and smartphones altogether. This development poses some major implications in medical malpractice; stripped of their cameras, visitors and patients may no longer be able to prove negligence in obstetrics.

A Longtime Trend

While delivery room camera bans are currently picking up steam, the practice is not as new as you might suspect. Several hospitals began to ban cameras already in the early and mid-2000s, following a string of lawsuits in which delivery room footage was presented as key evidence of negligence. A 2000 CNN report revealed that several hospitals in the Houston area had adopted no-taping policies in response to a $15 million malpractice lawsuit in which video played a central role. Likewise, in a notable 2007 case, a baby was born with permanent injuries at the University of Illinois Hospital. The father was present in the delivery room at the time of birth and able to capture video footage of the hospital's staff using excessive force. As a result, the infant's family was able to secure $2.3 million in damages in an ensuing medical malpractice lawsuit. This is just one of several instances in which video has allowed patients and their loved ones to clearly demonstrate negligence, which might otherwise be difficult to prove.

In recent years, hospital bans on videos of childbirth have been more widely publicized, often leading to public outcry. For example, a 2011 New York Times report highlighted Meritus Medical Center, where cell phones must be turned off during childbirth - and where all photos and videos are off limits. Pictures and videos can only be taken when permission has been granted by the medical center's staff members.

Practical Versus Legal Concerns

While skeptics allege that bans are entirely prompted by the desire to escape justice for malpractice, many health care professionals believe that recording devices pose a huge distraction. In the whirlwind of delivery, obstetricians and their cohorts are determined to focus on the task at hand: delivering healthy babies while ensuring the mother's safety. Many believe that cameras and smartphones make this difficult. In the aforementioned New York Times report, Massachusetts General Hospital's Dr. Erin E. Tracy referred to the use of cameras as a veritable "media circus," explaining that, during delivery, she "[wants] to be 100 percent focused on the [patient's] medical care."

Concerns regarding distractions are understandable, but the timing of video bans often seems suspect. All too often, these bans occur shortly after a facility or its competitor has been forced to pony up millions in malpractice lawsuits involving video footage of negligence. Former American Medical Association president John C. Nelson admitted to this fear years ago, explaining, "What once used to be really fun and warm and cozy and so forth is now a potential nail in the coffin from a liability perspective."

Medical Facilities are on Their Own

Currently, no clear federal standards provide guidance regarding the use of cameras in delivery rooms. Rather, hospitals and clinics must arrive at their own conclusions in regards to filming. Many ban visitors from recording the birth itself, but allow for filming of important moments related to childbirth, such as the first time a mother holds her child. Monitoring for use of cameras during different aspects of the birth experience can be tricky, however, and many facilities seem to err on the side of caution.

Interestingly, while many hospitals currently ban visitors from filming childbirth, some embrace the practice with open arms. In Boise, St. Luke's Hospital - which serves a large military population - allows mothers to connect with those stationed abroad via Skype and other video messaging services. Likewise, Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital strives to improve transparency by allowing videography, provided that those capturing footage avoid getting in the way with bulky equipment.

Standards regarding the use of recording devices in the delivery room are evolving rapidly, with various hospitals and health systems diverging dramatically based on perceived fears of medical malpractice lawsuits. While no immediate solution to the issue of filming bans exists, it's important for aspiring parents and health care professionals alike to be aware of the implications.