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Possible defenses for breach of doctor-patient confidentiality

The relationship between a doctor and their patient often involves extremely personal and sensitive information, and for this reason, there are laws in place that guarantee doctor-patient confidentiality. A breach of this confidentiality can be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Doctor-patient confidentiality basically starts the moment a patient walks into your office and lasts for pretty much the rest of the patient’s life – even after their death.

What is covered by doctor-patient confidentiality?

Per the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, healthcare providers have a duty to respect and protect their patients’ rights, including their confidentiality and privacy. These protections include opinions and conclusions arrived at after patient examination, the patient’s medical history, X-rays, laboratory reports as well as the patient’s pre-existing conditions.

Exceptions to doctor-patient confidentiality

The doctor-patient confidentiality doctrine is not absolute. Certain exceptions may allow the doctor to disclose patient information to third parties like government agencies. That said, here are possible defenses you can raise if you are accused of breaching doctor-patient confidentiality:

  • When the information in question is indicative of a crime that happened or was about to happen like child abuse
  • When the information is evidence of abuse, neglect, domestic violence or other violence-related injuries
  • If there is suspicion of death from a criminal conduct
  • If the information relates to sexually-transmitted diseases or other highly contagious infections.

Generally, these exceptions revolve around dangers to others or public health.

Doctor-patient confidentiality is essential for proper patient care. However, there are times when you may have to disclose your patient’s sensitive information to a third party. If you are accused of breaching your patient’s confidentiality rights, you need to explore your legal options.

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