These Docs Behaved Badly, but Should They Have Been Sued?

Jeffrey Segal, MD, JD


May 20, 2015

In This Article

The Case of the "Hot Rod" Tattoo

A Phoenix, Arizona, a strip club owner took an unusual bet a number of years ago: He agreed to get the words "Hot Rod" tattooed on his penis. The wager was for $1000.[4]

Years later, the tattoo owner needed gallbladder surgery. He went to the Mayo Clinic branch in Scottsdale, Arizona. The chief surgical resident there saw the tattoo while inserting a urinary catheter and snapped a photo using his smartphone. The chief resident shared the photo with other surgeons at the hospital, either by showing it to them on his smartphone, directing them to a social media website where it was posted, or sending it to them as an email attachment (the complaint doesn't specify the mode of sharing).[4]

One surgical staff member alerted the media—in this case, The Arizona Republic, the state's largest newspaper, which reaches nearly 2.2 million adults in Phoenix.[5]

The resident who took the photo, realizing that what he had done was now about to be made public in a big way, "told me he didn't want me to read about it in the newspaper first," the patient told a reporter for the paper. The resident told the patient he had erased the image almost immediately.

"It was the most horrible thing I ever went through in my life," the patient told the reporter. He apparently chose Mayo Clinic for treatment because his mother had had five surgeries there.

"They were supposedly the best of the best. I have no complaints about the medical care I was given," he told the reporter. "But now I feel violated, betrayed, and disgusted."

The patient was "deluged with interview requests from local, national, and international media, including network television stations."[6]

The Arizona Medical Board issued a public reprimand to the chief resident:

"The conduct and circumstances described above constitute unprofessional conduct pursuant to A.R.S. § 32-1401 (27)(z) ("[e]ngaging in sexual conduct with a current patient or with a former patient within six months after the last medical consultation unless the patient was the licensee's spouse at the time of the contact or, immediately preceding the physician-patient relationship, was in a dating or engagement relationship with the licensee. For purposes of this subdivision, 'Sexual Conduct' includes: (iii) Intentionally viewing a completely or partially disrobed patient in the course of treatment if the viewing is not related to patient diagnosis or treatment under current practice standards.")[7]

"Respondent is issued a Letter of Reprimand for inappropriately photographing and viewing a patient's penile tattoo," the board concluded.[7]


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