CHICAGO, IL – Patient-physician confidentiality is a fundamental aspect of medical ethics. Patients entrust their doctors with personal information, and it is considered medical malpractice when information to a third party is disclosed without the patient’s consent.
What is Patient-Doctor Confidentiality?
Patient-doctor confidentiality is the notion that a person should not be worried or concerned about seeking medical treatment out of fear that his or her condition will be disclosed to another party. The objective of the confidential relationship is so that patients can entrust their private information will be kept with their doctor or medical provider. Disclosing all information allows doctors to make an accurate diagnosis to provide the patient with the best possible medical care.
Principle IV of the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics states, “[a] physician shall safeguard patient confidences and privacy within the constraints of the law” . This duty of confidentiality has certain exceptions such as a patient’s threat to inflict serious physical harm on a specific, identified person when there is reasonable probability to believe the patient will carry out that threat .
The second part of Principle IV states, “within the constraints of the law” often justifies physicians’ decision to disclose confidential information. In most states, physicians are required by state law to disclose evidence of child abuse which can be obtained through a physical examination or discussion with the minor . Similarly, the law tells physicians to disclose information that indicates that a crime has occurred or may occur .
What is Covered by Patient-Doctor Confidentiality?
Confidentiality covers all medical records of the patient, including medical history, pre-existing medical conditions, x-rays, lab reports, etc.), as well as all communications between the patient and doctor. Generally, this includes the nurses and staff that work with the doctor.
What Constitutes as a Breach in Patient-Doctor Confidentiality?
A breach of patient-doctor confidentiality occurs when a patient’s private information is disclosed to a third party without their consent and most of the time knowledge. However, there are certain exceptions to the disclosure of information to state health officials and court orders that require medical records to be produced. These rules apply to both physicians and psychotherapists.
Patient confidentiality is protected under state law. When this is violated, the patient may have a cause of action against their doctor, medical providers, medical institution, among others for medical malpractice.
What Are the Privilege and Waiver Rules?
The patient-doctor privilege belongs to the patient. The patient has the right to decide whether or not the information is disclosed. In most cases, the doctor has no discretion as to whether or not the information can be disclosed.
A patient waives their privilege by initiating a lawsuit in which the patient’s health is the issue, so long as the interactions between the doctor and patient are relevant to the lawsuit. A patient may also initiate a lawsuit for personal injury; however, the patient-doctor relationship must be relevant to the medical issues provided in the lawsuit in order for the privilege to be waived. For example, if a patient files a personal injury lawsuit, the release of their medical records would be relevant to the case.
Patient-doctor confidentiality relationships also protect observations, not just words. A doctor’s observations during an examination are considered a part of communication, which is privileged as a result. However, a doctor can disclose very basic details about the examination without breaching patient-doctor confidentiality.
When a third party assists with the provision of a patient’s healthcare, the rules of confidentiality will often prevent disclosure of the information by the doctor or the third party.
How Long Does Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Last?
According to the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, the duty of confidentiality continues even after a patient has stopped being seen or treated by that particular doctor, even surviving the death of a patient.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for Breaching Confidentiality
If a doctor breaches the confidential relationship with their patient by disclosing protected information, the patient may be entitled to file a lawsuit. A patient may recover compensatory damages which include emotional suffering and damage to a patient’s reputation resulting from the disclosure.
Doctors may also be subject to sanctions by state medical boards for violating confidentiality rules. Although these sanctions don’t help the patient, it reduces the likelihood of future breaches of confidentiality.
If you or a loved one’s confidential information has been disclosed to a third party without your consent, please contact one of our skilled medical malpractice attorneys at Dinizulu Law Group. Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers of the Dinizulu Law Group have extensive knowledge and resources to seek justice for you or your loved one. Call our office today for a free consultation at (312) 384-1920 or visit our website for additional information.