Breaches of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Garrett Monteagudo, Esq. | Last reviewed December 15, 2022
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In certain legally recognized relationships, there are requirements concerning one or both party's consent before information can be disclosed to a third-party. Examples of the most common of these relationships are:
- A doctor to a patient
- A therapist to a patient
- An attorney to a client
Because these types of relationships often involve very personal and sensitive information (such as medical conditions or personal finances), confidentiality allows for open and forthright communication between the parties in these relationships. Confidentiality, as a result, serves the best interests of all involved.
This article focuses on breaches of doctor-patient confidentiality, the scope of the law, and what to do to protect yourself.
What is Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) governs doctor-patient confidentiality. Doctor-patient confidentiality is based on the notion that a person shouldn't be worried about seeking medical treatment for fear that their condition will be disclosed to others.
The purpose of this confidentiality is to make patients feel comfortable enough that they provide any and all information that is useful for receiving proper medical care. Receiving information in this way helps the doctor to make a correct diagnosis. It helps the doctor provide the patient with the best possible medical care.
As a result, once a doctor takes a patient on, there's an expectation that the physician will hold that special knowledge in confidence and use it exclusively for the benefit of the patient. The doctor cannot divulge any medical information about the patient to third parties without the patient's consent. However, though there are some exceptions to this rule. Examples of such exceptions are the following:
- Issues concerning health insurance
- If confidential information is at issue in a lawsuit
- If a patient or client plans to cause immediate harm to others
What is Covered by Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?
The professional duty of confidentiality covers not only what a patient may reveal to the doctor, but also any opinions and conclusions the doctor may form after having examined or assessed the patient.
Confidentiality covers all medical records Examples of what can be found in medical records are medical history, pre-existing medical conditions, x-rays, lab-reports, and communications between the patient and the doctor. Generally speaking, this also includes communications between the patient and other professional staff working with the doctor.
What Constitutes a Breach of Confidentiality?
A breach of confidentiality occurs when a patient's private information is disclosed to a third party without their consent. There are limited exceptions to this, including disclosures to state health officials and court orders requiring medical records to be produced.
In another such exception, for example, if you were to file a lawsuit for personal injuries, you would need to provide medical records addressing any medical attention you received as a result of or related to the injuries. In what is known as the discovery phase of the trial, review of this information could be limited only to issues and a timeframe that are relevant to the injuries in question in the lawsuit.
Patient confidentiality is protected under state law. If a patient's private information is disclosed without authorization and this causes some type of harm to the patient, the patient could have a cause of action against the medical provider for malpractice, invasion of privacy, or other related torts. Of course, if the patient consented to the disclosure, no breach occurred.
How Long Does Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Last?
The duty of confidentiality continues even after a patient has stopped seeing or being treated by that particular doctor. The duty even survives the death of a patient. That means if the patient passes away, their medical records and information are still protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.
Discuss Your Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Breach Claim with an Attorney
Your medical records say a lot about you and should never be shared without your consent. If you're still in need of information regarding the differences between confidentiality and privacy or if you need an attorney, you don't have to look far. Discuss these issues with a medical malpractice attorney near you.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
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Contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney to make sure your rights are protected.