A health care network in Michigan said it had opened an investigation after some operating room doctors posted photos on social media last week showing themselves holding a surgically removed organ and tissue material as part of a game that they likened to “The Price Is Right.”
The doctors, who are employed as medical residents by Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., and specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, asked people to guess how much an unidentified organ weighed, according to one of the Instagram posts obtained by the NBC affiliate WOOD-TV.
The station said it blurred part of the image in that post so that people could not tell what type of organ was shown in the post, which was shared publicly.
The posts appeared to show at least one patient in the background, the television station reported. They were taken down shortly after the station contacted the medical residents on Friday.
“The other game we play in the OR is guess that weight,” the post said. “It applies to much more than just babies. As always, ‘Price is Right’ rules apply so if you go over then you’re out!”
The doctor was referring to the television game show’s longstanding rule in which contestants who overestimate the value of a prize are disqualified.
Spectrum Health, which operates 14 hospitals in Western Michigan, three of which are in Grand Rapids, said in a statement on Sunday night that patient confidentiality was paramount.
“We were shocked and dismayed when we learned that surgical images were posted on an Instagram account not officially connected to Spectrum Health that was used by a group of medical residents,” the statement said. “This unacceptable behavior does not in any way reflect our organization, the outstanding professionalism of our medical staff or our resident physicians-in-training.”
It was not immediately clear which hospital or how many doctors were involved in the episode. None of the doctors who were involved have been identified. The Instagram handle used by the medical residents was @grandrapids_obgyn_residency.
“We are actively and comprehensively investigating this unfortunate incident,” Spectrum Health said. “These posts do not follow our code of excellence, our values or our expectations for team member behavior. We deeply value the trust that our patients have in us, and we work to strengthen this bond every day.”
In another photo that was shared publicly on Instagram by the medical residents, a doctor can be seen pointing to a strand of tissue after a patient had an operation to remove uterine fibroids, which are usually benign tumors but can hide a dangerous type of cancer.
The doctor had just completed a procedure known as morcellation, in which a surgeon typically uses a tool with a spinning blade that slices tissue so it can be extracted through small incisions. The technique has been the subject of an intense medical debate: Some say it can spread cancer, while others say the procedure is less invasive than alternatives.
The doctor wrote that medical residents could be a little competitive when the attending physician challenged them in morcellation, the station reported.
“Longest one wins!” the station quoted the post as saying. “Good work.”
Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said in an interview on Sunday that the social media posts could be grounds for serious disciplinary action against the doctors, possibly resulting in loss of license.
“It certainly is a serious breach of ethics,” he said. “There’s absolutely no excuse for turning something that should be serious and treated with respect into a kind of silly carnival.”
Many patients consider tissue or organs that have been surgically removed to still be part of themselves, especially female reproductive organs, Dr. Caplan said. Posting a photo featuring a patient partly visible in an operating room, he said, crossed a line.
“We try to explain that a key aspect of professionalism is always respect for the patient and understanding that patients have a strong feeling about their bodies and intimacy,” he said.
At least one person complained about the Instagram posts before they were removed.
“And do you think the patient would appreciate you posting this?” the television station quoted the person as saying in a comment below the organ photo. “Did she agree for her body to be displayed on social media as a part of your ‘game’?”