There is a rule known as doctor-patient confidentiality. Under this rule, a doctor cannot disclose personal information about a patient to anyone. This medical information is confidential to the patient, but as with all laws, there is an exception to the confidentiality requirement.
In some cases, state laws require a physician to disclose information about a patient. However, what happens when a physician must testify against a patient? Can he or she disclose confidential information then?
Understanding the Physician-Patient Privilege Rules
The privilege of confidentiality between patient and physician is regulated by state laws. They do vary depending on the state; therefore, patients should educate themselves about their state’s specific rules.
In general, this rule forbids physicians from disclosing any personal information about their patients to a third party without the patient’s signed consent. The privileged information includes:
- Courses of treatment;
- Patient’s diagnosis;
- Medical documents;
- Doctor’s opinions about the patient;
- Personal information such as date of birth, social security number, etc.
This rule is there to protect a patient and ensure that he or she can be candid with a physician without the fear of personal information being shared publicly.
The privilege rule, however, is not set in stone. A doctor may be forced to disclose certain types of injuries, such as STDs or suspected child abuse. Also, if a patient admits to a threat or if the physician feels that the patient is a threat to the community, the doctor is required to contact the authorities and disclose that information.
When a Physician Must Testify
The privilege typically prevents a physician from testifying at trial; however, a patient can waive that privilege if he or she has asked the physician to testify on his or her behalf. However, patients should be cautious about doing so, because once privilege is waived, the defense can ask questions about health and other medical matters in court, and the physician can answer.
Suing a Physician for Breach of Confidentiality
When you do not sign a waiver, and a physician violates your patient-physician privileges, you may have a malpractice lawsuit against that physician. It is important to note that a patient’s confidentiality also extends after death; therefore, a physician cannot testify to a patient’s personal health record even after he or she has passed away, unless the doctor has the surviving family’s consent.
If you want your physician to testify in court, or if your physician testified against you without your consent, contact a malpractice attorney to explore your options.