Breaches of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

The confidentiality agreement between the patient and the doctor  is based on the notion that a person should not be dissuaded from seeking medical treatment by the fear that his or her condition will be disclosed to others. The doctor is reasonably expected to hold that special knowledge in confidence and use it exclusively for the benefit of the patient. Once the patient has already been admitted by the doctor, he or she cannot disclose any information (medical and personal) about the patient to third persons without the patient’s consent.

What’s covered by doctor-patient confidentiality?

Confidentiality is one of the professional obligations of doctors. 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. The duty of confidentiality also includes all medical records (including x-rays, lab-reports, etc.) as well as the communications between patient and doctor, and generally includes communications and even normal conversations between the patient and other professional staff working with the doctor.

What constitutes a breach of confidentiality?

Whenever a patient’s private information is disclosed to the third party without his or her consent, there is a breach of confidentiality. There are limited exclusions to this general rule. The exceptions include the disclosures to state health officials and court orders requiring medical records to be produced.

The state law protects the confidentiality of patients. This is to help preserve the privacy that is accorded to every individual by the constitution. 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?

Even after the doctor is done with the treatment of the patient, the duty of confidentiality still subsists. 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.

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