K.C. hospitals beginning to discourage videotaping births
Sunday, June 11, 2006
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Andrew and Vicki Widman approached parenthood for the first time in January, they had no intention of videotaping the birth.
But just as little Reece was about to enter the world, Andrew instinctively reached for the camcorder. He picked it up with his trembling hands and hit the "record" button just in time, eternally capturing the moment that forever changed their lives.
"I'm so glad," said Andrew, whose family lives in Overland Park, Kan.
The Widmans were lucky, having their child at a hospital -- Shawnee Mission Medical Center -- that allowed them to record the birth.
Many hospitals in Kansas City and throughout the nation prohibit or discourage parents from videotaping that magical moment. Ditto for digital cameras and camera phones.
It's a burgeoning trend where hospitals -- worried about disruptions, protective of privacy rights or fearful of potential evidence in a lawsuit -- are clamping down on delivery room decorum.
"More and more hospitals are doing this," said Kathy Jackson, director of the family birthing center at Menorah Medical Center, which prohibits parents from videotaping childbirth.
Some hospitals allow camcorders during delivery, but there are rules.
The policy at the University of Kansas Hospital is that videotaping is allowed -- if the attending physicians agree.
Most of them don't, said Dennis McCulloch, director of public and government relations.
"For the most part, physicians view it as a distraction," he said.
"If it's a distraction that gets in the way of patient care, then it's a problem," he said. There's enough for the doctors to concentrate on "without having to worry about someone putting a camera in their face."
Neither the American Hospital Association nor the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has taken a formal position on the issue.
"We understand that hospitals are different," said Bonnie Connors Jellen, director of maternal and child health at the hospital association. "We defer to the clinical organizations in terms of what's appropriate, acceptable or agreeable in terms of the patient-physician relationship."
At Shawnee Mission Medical Center, there's no written policy that spells out what parents can and can't do.
"We really want families to have a copy of their baby's birth," said Deb Ohnoutka, the hospital's administrative director of women and children services.
Still, hospital personnel tell parents they're expected to turn cameras off if asked by the medical staff.
The written policy at St. Luke's Hospital says the person recording the video "must remain at the head of the bed," that all video equipment must be hand-held and that cords and tripods and external light sources are prohibited. Truman Medical Center allows videotaping from the head of the bed but warns -- in a form that all mothers must sign before labor -- that taping "must stop when the baby's head appears."
Kate Eller, a spokeswoman at Olathe Medical Center, simply said that videotaping is "rarely done and highly discouraged."
There are many reasons for the reluctance, not the least of which is patient safety. Many physicians worry that emotional family members armed with camcorders might inadvertently get in the way.
And then there are the legal reasons.
Hospitals and physicians are concerned that, if something goes wrong during the delivery, video of the birth could come back to haunt them in a courtroom.
"It's become more of an issue in the last three years," said Tim Martin, an obstetrician and president of the Women's Healthcare Group in Overland Park. "Perhaps that's related to the worsening malpractice climate for OB-GYNs."
Said McCulloch: "Certainly, the concern of litigation has put this issue a little more to the forefront. If the physician is in the back of his mind saying, 'I have to do this right, because I'm being taped and this could wind up in court,' that can be a distraction."
That's not how Margaret Estrin sees it, though. A physician with the Women's Healthcare Group who delivers babies at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, she welcomes camcorders in her delivery room.
"It's something very momentous in a family's life," Estrin said. "If they want to record that, they should be able to."
And Estrin isn't worried about legal problems, arguing that video proof could exonerate a doctor just as readily as it could indict one.
"If anything," she said, "I'm going to be more careful when video is running."
Marlene Hess of Roeland Park, Kan., who gave birth on April 18 at Shawnee Mission, has about three minutes of her son's birth captured on a digital camera.
"When we did our walk-through of the hospital, I asked what they felt about pictures and videos," Hess said. "They said it was OK. If they hadn't, I might have looked somewhere else.
"It was that important to me."