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Breaches of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

Doctors must comply with medical ethics rules, and with that comes certain legal duties. Among those duties is the legally recognized relationship between doctor and patient. Doctor-patient relationships include confidentiality, similar to therapist-patient and attorney-client relationships.

These relationships involve personal and sensitive information, like medical conditions or personal finances. Confidentiality allows for open and honest communication. As a result, confidentiality serves the best interests of all parties involved.

Healthcare provider relationships also have consent requirements. Consent controls whether a doctor can share patient information with a third party.

This article focuses on breaches of doctor-patient confidentiality and consent.

What Is Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) protects a patient's health information. This act recognizes the need to protect private health information. HIPAA requires medical professionals to keep patient information confidential. Confidentiality ensures patient information is not disclosed to others during or after medical treatment.

The purpose of confidentiality is to help patients feel comfortable. Receiving all relevant information helps a doctor make a correct diagnosis. It also helps the doctor provide the patient with the best possible medical care.

Confidentiality Exceptions

In general, a patient's medical records are confidential and benefit the patient. A doctor cannot give medical information to third parties without the patient's consent.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Issues about health insurance
  • If confidential information is at issue in a lawsuit
  • If a patient or client plans to cause immediate harm to others

What Does Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Cover?

The duty of confidentiality protects information a patient may reveal to a doctor. A doctor's opinions and conclusions after assessments with the patient are also protected. Confidentiality covers all medical records.

Examples of confidential information in medical records include:

  • Medical history
  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Communicable diseases
  • X-rays
  • Lab-reports
  • Communication between patient and doctor
  • Communication between the patient and other professional staff working with the doctor

What Is a Breach of Confidentiality?

A breach of confidentiality involves sharing a patient's information without consent.

However, rules of confidentiality do not apply to:

  • Disclosures to state health officials
  • Court orders subpoenaing medical records

For example, during a medical malpractice case, confidentiality is not breached when discussing medical records. However, attorneys will ask the plaintiff to sign a HIPAA waiver to ensure that no privacy rules are violated. The court can limit the review of records to the time frame surrounding the injuries in the lawsuit.

State and federal laws protect patient confidentiality. A patient can have a cause of action against a medical provider. A medical malpractice claim for invasion of privacy arises when a medical provider:

  • Shares a patient's private information without consent
  • Causes a patient harm

Of course, if the patient consents to the disclosure, there is no breach.

How Long Does Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Last?

The duty of confidentiality continues after a patient stops medical treatment with a doctor. The duty even survives the death of a patient.

When a patient dies, their medical records 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 cannot be shared without your consent.

If a breach of confidentiality causes harm, you may have a claim. You or a family member may file a medical malpractice lawsuit. You may want to know the difference between confidentiality and privacy.

You may need to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer to understand your options. Discuss these issues with a medical malpractice attorney near you.

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