Breaches of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality
Doctor-patient confidentiality is based on the notion that a person shouldn’t be dissuaded from seeking medical treatment by the fear that his or her condition will be disclosed to others. There’s generally an expectation that the physician will hold that special knowledge in confidence and use it exclusively for the benefit of the patient. Once a doctor takes a patient on, he or she cannot divulge any medical information about the patient to third persons without the patient's consent.
What’s covered by doctor-patient confidentiality?
The professional duty of confidentiality covers not only what a patient may reveal to the doctor, but also what a doctor may independently conclude or form an opinion about based on his or her examination or assessment of the patient. Confidentiality covers all medical records (including x-rays, lab-reports, etc.) as well as communications between patient and doctor, and generally 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 his or her consent. There are limited exceptions to this, including disclosures to state health officials and court orders requiring medical records to be produced.
Patient confidentiality is protected under state law. If a patient’s private information is disclosed without authorization and an injury results, the patient could have a cause of action against the medical provider for malpractice, invasion of privacy, or 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 the doctor. The duty even survives the death of a patient. That means if the patient passes away, his or her medical records and information are still protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.