Well Being

OB/GYN Trash Talks A Patient On Facebook And I’m Horrified

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I'm betting Dr. Amy Dunbar, an OB/GYN at a hospital in St. Louis, has been kicking herself for the better part of a week. Why? Because of the grossly unprofessional Facebook status she posted on January 28th, complaining about one of her patients.

Her post read:

So I have a patient who has chosen to either no-show or be late (sometimes hours) for all of her prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and NSTs. She is now three hours late for her induction. May I show up late for her delivery?

Several other medical professionals chimed in underneath the status, making their (often just as unprofessional) opinions known. When Mercy Hospital's Moms-To-Be posted a screenshot of the exchange on their Facebook page, people started getting angry, and rightfully so. Dr. Dunbar has been reprimanded by the hospital and a spokesperson called her comments “definitely inappropriate.” The hospital is also reviewing the Facebook posts to see if they violate any privacy regulations.

Obviously, there are issues here in regards to doctor-patient confidentiality and professionalism. But I also think there might also be some issues related to the prevalence of social media today, as well as to the state of modern maternity care.

I'm only going on the facts I have access to from the internet (which, as we can guess, are probably not the full story), so lots of this is pure speculation, but here goes. Maybe Dr. Dunbar's client was late to all her appointments because she didn't have reliable transportation and had to rely on friends, family, or public transportation to get her from place to place. Maybe she has anxiety about medical procedures and being in a medical environment so it took her time to get herself mentally ready to go. Maybe she's a survivor of sexual abuse and her prenatal care serves as a trigger for her. Maybe she didn't like Dr. Dunbar but Dr. Dunbar was the only doctor her insurance would cover. Maybe she'd had a bad experience with a doctor in a previous pregnancy, or even a bad experience with Dr. Dunbar or at her office earlier in the same pregnancy. I'm not saying I think it was fine for the patient to be continually late or not show up to her appointments, but I do think there's pretty obviously more to the story.

And maybe Dr. Dunbar's client simply didn't want to be induced. (While undoubtedly rude to the doctor and the doctor's schedule, that's her choice. Her body, her baby, her choice.) While this may look like a very black-and-white situation, it seems to me that there are many possible reasons and situations that the doctor didn't consider before making her rude Facebook status.

Dr. Dunbar says that the reason she “put up with” her patient's behavior is because the patient had had a prior stillbirth. Not only could that fact, combined with the other information, potentially expose this pregnant woman's medical history, it's also crass and beyond unprofessional to mention something like this in a public forum. Any and every woman, but especially a woman who has experienced a stillbirth, has the right to safe, confidential maternity care without judgement. It doesn't look that that's at all what Dr. Dunbar provides.

While I don't disagree that doctors, like all people, should be able to blow off steam and show their frustration, the place for that is not social media like Facebook or Twitter. How about complaining later, at home, to your spouse or family? Or sending a frustrated text to a friend or colleague? That goes for any profession, I think, but especially for people in the medical field, who have to abide by strict confidentiality measures.

I also think that there's a degree of sensitivity that was missing from this doctor's care. Obstetricians and gynecologists should be extremely sensitive to and cognizant of the differing life situations (as well as health conditions) of their patients. Or at least be smart enough to lock their Facebook accounts up so this kind of tacky unedited behavior doesn't become public.

Although I must say that in this case, I'm glad it did become public. If the OB I was seeing while pregnant was the kind of person to post this sort of a Facebook status about me or another patient, I'd want to know about it. And I'd want the rest of the world to know about it, too.

Photo: Daily Dot