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What You Need to Know About Breaches in Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

October 6, 2016

What if you found out that the information you shared during the course of medical treatment was mishandled and shared with others without your consent? Unfortunately, this could mean that you have a breach in doctor-patient confidentiality, and it isn’t something you should take lightly.

You wholly expect that physicians will uphold doctor-patient confidentiality—not only because they took the Hippocratic Oath which cites that he or she would always protect their patients and use the information obtained solely to the benefit of their patients—but because it’s a concept of ethics and morals; it’s about right and wrong.

The Hippocratic Oath was founded on the belief that individuals seeking treatment must not be hindered by fear, mistrust, or vulnerability; instead, patients should be able to share their most intimate, sensitive, and pressing health concerns without a tinge of a breach in confidentiality. You, as a trusting patient, have that as a right—not a privilege. In fact, most states have statutes’ written into law that protect doctor-patient confidentiality.

What is a Breach in Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?

A breach of doctor-patient confidentiality can be defined in a few ways. From a legal perspective, “confidentiality” is a word relating to any bit of information shared with an individual(s) that can’t be divulged to a third party without explicit consent from the owner of the information. Now, doctor-patient confidentiality functions in that same way: Any details exchanged during the course of treatment must, by law, stay within the confines of doctor and patient unless the patient consents otherwise. If by chance any information is shared by a physician to a third party without authorization from the patient, a breach in doctor-patient confidentiality may have been committed.

All of the following information should be kept between patient and physician, even after the course of treatment has ended:

  • Any information (including names) pertaining to appointments, examinations, assessments, and procedures shared or discussed with the physician and other treating medical staff
  • Any opinions, conclusions, or diagnoses the doctor develops after assessments and/or examinations
  • All medical records, including medical history, preexisting conditions, x-rays, lab reports, etc.
  • Any communication–whether health-related or otherwise–shared with the physician and other treating medical staff during treatment

Is Your Case a Breach of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality or Medical Malpractice?

A breach of doctor-patient confidentiality can be considered malpractice; therefore, inappropriate disclosures of information can be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Depending on how atrocious the disclosure was, it may be possible to recover compensatory damages for the consequences of the breach.

Exceptions to Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

Like with most things, there are exceptions. A medical malpractice lawsuit might not do a patient any good if the physician divulges patient information in the following situations:

  • A physician or medical personnel is required to make a statement to any sort of public health official
  • A physician or other medical personnel is treating injuries that could prompt a criminal investigation (e.g. gunshot wounds, suspected child abuse, intoxication-related car accident injuries, etc.)
  • The patient is a danger to themselves or others
  • The patient is diagnosed with a communicable disease such as HIV
  • There are health insurance-related complications

Patients may waive their own right to confidentiality if they file a personal injury claim or lawsuit. Because the alleged breach/medical condition is the focal point of the suit, there’s an automatic implied consent moving forward. Also, if a patient brings a family member or a friend to appointments, for example,  he or she may be obligated to reveal any relevant information in a testimony.

Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorneys Can Help

While the guidelines for a confidentiality agreement may seem pretty straight-forward, if you’re pursuing a medical malpractice case, complications start there. Consider consulting with a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your best moves forward. The medical malpractice attorneys at WKW are available to schedule a free case evaluation. Give our office a call at 317.920.6400 or 800.525.8028, or contact us through our online form.

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