Baby board displays at doctors' offices may be illegal

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WJLA) – Have you ever sent a photo of your child to your pediatrician’s office, where it is displayed on a large board of baby pictures on the wall?

According to federal law, such baby board displays can be illegal. This comes from the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA. Due to the law’s privacy regulations, those smiling photos of your bouncing baby boy or girl are now often filed away and never displayed.

Karin Fitzgerald Purugganan’s son, Moses, is four weeks old. She sent a photo from her son’s birth to her midwife, Marsha Jackson, to display at her office.

“It’s like one of the happiest days of your life, so of course I’d want other people to see that,” Purugganan said.

Jackson’s office at BirthCare & Women’s Health in Alexandria is filled with baby photos, including birth announcements and family portraits hung up for all to see.

“We want our families to feel welcome; we want it to be warm and inviting,” Jackson said. “I think having the pictures posted really helps.”

But according to HIPAA law, photo displays in medical offices like this can be illegal; the photos are considered private, like a patient’s name, address or Social Security number.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights clarifies that “the law just requires that the parents give written informed permission to ensure that they are aware of and agree to the ways in which a doctor plans to publicly use these photos.”

At BirthCare & Women’s Health, permission is included in the practice’s general consent form.

“So, it’s up to them if they want us to post the picture or if they just are giving it to us for a keepsake,” Jackson said.

“I’m totally fine with it,” Purugganan said.

But some pediatricians’ offices simply file away photos in medical records to avoid the problem.

At the Pediatric Care Center in Bethesda, Md., the only photos on display are decades old.

“In this day and age, things are different,” said Dr. Paul Weiner. “I do think in posting pictures in the future we would probably be getting consent.”