What is a Breach of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?

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If someone has a health issue that requires medical attention, or is simply going in for their annual check-up, anything they discuss with their physician is kept between them and the health care provider. The physician is legally required to uphold a doctor-patient confidentiality agreement, which is based on the concept that a patient should never be concerned about seeking medical treatment for fear that private medical information will be disclosed to others. If a patient discovers that the information that they shared with their physician was mishandled or shared with others without their consent, this is a breach of the doctor-patient confidentiality agreement, and they may be entitled to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against their health care provider. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer can thoroughly review the case and recommend the best legal course of action.

What Falls Under Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?

A person’s health is a very personal issue, particularly if they have specific health issues they would not feel comfortable discussing with anyone else. Doctor-patient confidentiality is important because it helps patients feel more comfortable sharing details about their health. In addition, the more information the physician has about the patient, the better he or she will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and provide the best possible care.

Once the doctor-patient relationship has been established, the physician cannot divulge any medical information without the patient’s consent. The duty of confidentiality does not end when the patient is no longer being treated by the physician. It continues for as long as the patient lives, and even continues after the patient’s death. The agreement covers the following:

  • Information about appointments, examinations, and procedures that were discussed with the physician and other health care professionals.
  • All medical records, including pre-existing conditions, medical history, X-rays, and laboratory reports.
  • All opinions, conclusions, and diagnoses made by the physician after examinations.
  • All communication between the patient and the physician, as well as other health care professionals who were involved in the patient’s treatment.

What are Privilege and Waiver Rules?

In most cases, the physician does not have the right to disclose patient information; that is the patient’s right. If the patient files a medical malpractice lawsuit and the case goes to court, the patient will have the opportunity to assert his or her privilege if the physician starts to disclose privileged information. The patient’s medical malpractice lawyer must object to the disclosure of information. If the patient, or his or her attorney, does not object, the patient waives the privilege. Patients mostly waive the doctor-patient privilege when filing a medical malpractice lawsuit because the disclosure of information suggests that the patient’s health was compromised while under the care of the physician.

If a patient files a personal injury claim, they may waive their right to confidentiality. When an alleged breach is the focal point of a lawsuit, there is an implied consent moving forward. In addition, if a family member or friend attends an appointment with the patient, they may be required to provide relevant information during testimony.

Are There Exceptions to a Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Agreement?

Although it is unlikely that a patient’s health care professional will be able to share any of their medical information with an interested party without their consent, there are some exceptions that would allow the physician to divulge patient information, including the following:

  • The physician is required to provide information to a public health official.
  • The patient’s injuries are the result of a criminal investigation.
  • The patient is diagnosed with an infectious communicable disease, such as HIV.
  • The patient is at risk of harming themselves or others.
  • There are potential health insurance complications.

Most states do not require physicians to report patients for substance abuse. According to the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University, if there is no mandatory reporting requirement, patients may be more likely to confide in their health care professional about a substance abuse problem. The physician can then refer the patient to a psychologist who specializes in addiction issues. If the patient is going through severe withdrawal, or is severely intoxicated and requires medical attention, the physician may seek assistance from another medical professional without obtaining consent from the patient.

There are times when a physician may inadvertently disclose patient information without intentionally meaning to do so. For example, a physician may discuss case details with another health care provider. However, if this conversation takes place in a hallway or on an elevator, where other people can easily hear the conversation, this could qualify as an inadvertent breach. Anytime a physician wishes to discuss details of a case with a colleague, they should always conduct these conversations in a private space.    

How can Patients File a Lawsuit for Breach of Confidentiality?

It is highly recommended that patients who wish to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against their health care provider consult with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. This will help the patient avoid common mistakes and ensure that all the necessary information is obtained for a successful claim. When pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit in the state of Maryland, a skilled medical malpractice lawyer will assist clients with the following:

  • Obtaining medical records. Because health care providers are legally required to keep patients’ medical records and health information strictly confidential, a patient who wishes to file a medical malpractice lawsuit must sign a release form in order to share that information with an attorney. The patient can seek compensatory damages, including emotional suffering, if the patient’s reputation was damaged as a result of the disclosure of information.
  • Statute of limitations. In Maryland, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within five years of the time that the injury occurred, or within three years of the date that the injury was discovered, whichever comes first. If the lawsuit is filed after the deadline has passed, it is likely that the claim will be dismissed.
  • Arbitration panel. Rather than filing in court, medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed with an arbitration panel.
  • Certificate of qualified expert. A medical malpractice lawyer can assist the patient with obtaining this certificate, which must be filed within 90 days of filing the claim.
  • Report of the attesting expert. This is required in addition to the certificate of a qualified expert.
  • Cap on damages. There is a cap on the amount of damages a patient can receive for pain and suffering in a medical malpractice lawsuit, compared to what an injury victim may receive in a personal injury case. Currently, the cap on pain and suffering damages is $830,000.
  • Maryland collateral source rule. This states that medical bills can be introduced only if they were paid or were a cost to the patient.

What Damages can I Collect in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

There are two types of damages that a patient can collect in a medical malpractice case, including the following:

  • Economic damages: These are costs that can be precisely calculated, including:
    • Medical expenses related to the injury, which include hospital bills, prescription medications, and in-home care
    • Lost wages if the patient is unable to return to work for a period of time
  • Non-economic damages: These costs cover a patient’s diminished quality of life, and can include:
    • Pain and suffering: As mentioned, patients can collect up to $830,000, depending on the nature of the injury.
    • Loss of consortium: This is the loss of companionship, affection, or sexual activity resulting from the injury.
    • Loss of enjoyment of life: Serious injuries can cause chronic pain, lack of mobility, emotional distress, and other issues that may result in depression or emotional pain.
    • Punitive damages: These are awarded to punish health care professionals who made a particularly egregious mistake. For example, if the physician purposely shared private medical information about a patient without getting permission, the patient may seek punitive damages.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Assist Clients with Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Breach Claims

If your health care provider breached the doctor-patient confidentiality agreement, do not hesitate to contact the highly skilled Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. This is a violation of your rights, and we will hold the negligent party liable for any injuries or emotional distress. Protecting your rights is our top priority, and we will not stop fighting for you until we have your complete satisfaction. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.