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

Updated May 9, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

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, it 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 they would always protect their patients and use the information obtained solely to the benefit of their patients, but also because it’s a concept of ethics.

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.

Breaches in Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

A breach in doctor-patient confidentiality can be defined in a few ways. From a legal perspective, confidentiality relates to any bit of information shared with an individual that cannot be divulged to a third party without explicit consent from the owner of the information.

Doctor-patient confidentiality functions in the 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.

What Information is Confidential?

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

There are some exceptions to doctor-patient confidentiality. 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 (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 or 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, they may be obligated to reveal any relevant information in a testimony.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

While the guidelines for a confidentiality agreement may seem pretty straightforward, they can get complicated depending on the situation. If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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