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Would body cameras on doctors improve health care?

Picture this: A physician is accused of inappropriately touching a patient during an exam. Authorities immediately access video taken from the clinician’s body camera to determine what transpired in the examining room.

If body cameras are effective in policing and racial profiling, can health care benefit from the technology as well?

Steven Strauss, a visiting professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, raised the issue in an op-ed published in Monday’s Los Angeles Times.

Leaving aside patient outcomes, there are also highly credible accusations that medical staff have groped and sexually abused sedated patients . Body cameras on doctors and nurses might well prevent such incidents, or provide evidence if they did occur.

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MedCityNews.com reported that the video cameras could also address claims of inferior medical treatment for minorities:

In general, African Americans and other people of color receive inferior medical treatment, leading to higher death rates. David Williams, a professor of public health at Harvard, who has researched this issue, writes that blacks and other minorities receive fewer diagnostic tests, fewer treatments, and overall poorer-quality care — even after adjusting for variations in insurance, facilities, and seriousness of illness.

Physicians’ body language and minority patients

According to the Huffington Post, a recent study of body language as it relates to physician communication and patient care proves Williams’ point. Dr. Amber Barnato, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said her team analyzed audio and video recordings of doctors who interacted with black actors. The actors were asked to portray dying hospital patients. The providers knew they were involved in a study but didn’t know what the researchers were looking for, HuffPo reported. The result? African-American “patients” received less-compassionate care from real doctors than did their white counterparts.

Barnato said: “Although we found that physicians said the same things to their black and white patients, communication is not just the spoken word. It also involves nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, body positioning and touch.”

The Huffington Post goes on to say the research suggests the doctors in the study let their black “patients” down.

When interacting with whites—explaining their health condition and what the next steps might be—the doctors in the simulations tended to stand close to the bedside and were more likely to touch the person in a sympathetic way. With blacks, the doctors were more likely to remain standing at the door of the hospital room and to use their hands to hold a binder—a posture that could make them appear defensive or disengaged.

RELATED: Fine-tune your internal communications measurement and earn buy-in for your team.

Still photos and social media expose elderly abuse

Video cameras aren’t the only tool that can be used to improve patient care. Consider the repugnant activities of numerous staffers at nursing homes nationwide. Many have been convicted of breaking abuse and privacy laws when they posted photos on Snapchat and other photo-sharing platforms. The Chicago Tribune reported a few months ago:

The incidents illustrate the emerging threat that social media poses to patient privacy and, at the same time, its powerful potential for capturing transgressions that previously might have gone unrecorded. Abusive treatment is not new at nursing homes. Workers have been accused of sexually assaulting residents, sedating them with antipsychotic drugs and failing to change urine-soaked bedsheets. But the posting of explicit photos is a new type of mistreatment — one that sometimes leaves its own digital trail.

One facility, Prestige Post-Acute and Rehab Center in Washington modified its internal communication policies after an incident in 2014, according to the Tribune:

In a statement, PrestigeCare said it fired the employee, alerted authorities and instituted new, stricter cell phone and social media policies. “We take these situations very seriously and are thankful that our own internal procedures alerted us so promptly to the issue.”

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Communicators, do your crisis plans include this aspect of social media policy and employee culture? Are you coaching providers on body language as it relates to patient care? Where do you stand on the introduction of body cameras in medical situations?

HealthCareCommunication.com