Patient confidentiality is a critical topic for today’s physicians and the lawyers retained to advise physicians. With many laws in place today to protect patient information, doctors may have medical legal concerns about their need to obtain personal information from their patients and what they can do with such information.
Based on a physician's legal duty to maintain confidentiality, they must always consider the various ways this confidence can be inadvertently breached as well as the infrequent instances where doing so might be warranted.
Duty to Maintain Patient Confidentiality
To effectively serve their many patients, every physician must protect his or her confidential relationships with them. In exchange for patients providing important personal information to their doctors, patients expect and have a legal right to confidentiality and the promise that their details will not be unknowingly shared.
The right to confidentiality goes beyond the relationship between patient and doctor and extends to any person or staff member with whom there is any type of interaction. Physicians lawyers point out that this includes spouses, family members, employers, and any other third parties unless permission has been specifically granted to share certain information with others.
Inappropriate Disclosure of Patient Information
Maintaining patient privacy requires that all physicians understand what constitutes the inappropriate sharing of confidential information in order to avoid medical legal concerns. Seemingly harmless acts, such as discussing a case with colleagues in an area where the discussion can be overheard by others, is considered a breach of confidentiality.
Discussing a patient with a concerned family member who inquires about their loved one is also inappropriate. Likewise, even presenting patient information for teaching purposes may breach privacy laws if the patient can be identified in any way. Doctors must consider whether their discussions, both in and out of the office, could be considered as an inappropriate disclosure.
Is Disclosure Without Permission Ever Justified?
Although every physician has a duty to uphold their patient’s confidentiality, lawyers who help physician clients do note a few circumstances where disclosure would be appropriate and not subject to penalties. These circumstances include instances where there is a safety concern for the patient or other individuals or if a doctor is legally compelled to disclose information by an order from the courts.
In the former case, should a physician determine that a patient is genuinely at risk and could harm him or herself or someone else, disclosure as part of an intervention may be permissible without the threat of medical legal concerns. Where the latter instance is concerned, being compelled to report confidential information takes legal precedence over confidentiality laws. Yet doctors must still exercise caution when providing required information to not offer more than what is needed.
Physicians have the legal and professional responsibility to maintain patient privacy unless given permission to disclose certain information. It is essential that doctors also understand that this duty extends beyond the examination room. Except in extreme cases, physicians and their staff may not disclose patient information. Doctors with medical legal concerns should talk to experienced physicians lawyers who can further explain the issue of confidentiality and how to maintain patient privacy.
The Stevenson Law Firm, PC
6302 W. Broadway, Suite 120
Pearland, TX 77581
Phone: (832) 481-4548