Ten women in the St. Louis area have filed lawsuits in federal court after discovering that an Internet search for their names returned "before and after" photos of their breast augmentation surgeries, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
How the Photos Were Posted
Plastic and cosmetic surgeons often post photos online -- usually without showing faces -- so potential customers can view their work.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuits -- who were patients of plastic surgeon Michele Koo -- signed a waiver stating that Koo and other physicians could use their photos, videos and case histories in presentations, websites or other materials "for the purpose of informing the medical profession or the general public."
However, the waiver also stated, "Neither I, nor any member of my family, will be identified by name in any publication."
About the Lawsuits
The lawsuits allege that Koo was negligent because the photos on her website included information that could be linked to the plaintiffs' names. If patients' names are not removed from computerized picture file information, the names can be displayed with the images during a Web search.
The plaintiffs did not suggest that Koo intentionally revealed the names.
Response to the Allegations
Jonathan Ries -- a lawyer for Koo -- said Koo did not intend to link the photos with patient names. The online photos no longer contain the identifying information.
In court filings, Koo's lawyers alleged that MedNet Technologies -- the company that ran Koo's website -- was responsible for the privacy breach, claiming that the firm failed to maintain the site in a "competent and professional manner."
John Pellman, MedNet's CEO, said that Koo and other physicians are responsible for the content on their websites. Pellman said his firm has advised clients to ensure that the information on their sites does not violate patient privacy laws.
Problem Could Be Widespread
According to the Post-Dispatch, patient privacy violations like the one involving Koo's patients could be widespread.
The Post-Dispatch found that as recently as early August, a Google search identified several plastic and cosmetic surgery websites that contained photos linked to patient names (Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/13).