The confidentiality factor between a doctor and patient is of great significance. A patient shouldn’t be worried about obtaining medical advice and treatment from a physician for fear that details of his/her condition will be revealed to others. A medical professional can hope to get valuable and complete information regarding the patient’s health only when this confidentiality is assured. Simply put, a clinician cannot disclose any healthcare details of the patient to a third party without the patient’s express consent. There are exceptions though, such as when the information is required for medical review purposes in connection with a lawsuit or health insurance claim.
Confidentiality should be maintained as regards the following:
- All medical records including medical history, X-rays, lab reports, pre-existing medical conditions etc.
- Consultations with other specialists
- The doctor’s opinions and conclusions
- Communications between the patient and doctor, and between the patient and the doctor’s office staff
Confidentiality Breach – What It Involves
State law protects a patient’s confidentiality. A confidentiality breach occurs when the patient’s healthcare details become public without his/her consent. Of course, exceptions are when the patient’s records are requested to be produced before state health officials or via court orders. When this private information is disclosed without the patient’s consent and causes some kind of harm to the patient, the provider is at risk of facing a malpractice case. It is important to remember that the confidentiality guarantee continues even after the patient has stopped seeing or being treated by the doctor, and even after the patient’s death.
When Breaches Occur
Unfortunately, confidentiality breaches do occur frequently. According to the privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, there are at least 2,500 data breaches every year by the NHS (National Health Service), UK. The group identified cases where data was stolen, sent inadvertently via post/fax, or inappropriately posted on social media. Between April 2011 and April 2014, the number of recorded incidents was as high as 7,255. Related to these data breaches, there were in all 61 resignations according to NHS sources.
Sensitive data is often disclosed inadvertently by staff that makes mistakes. Such staff members must be given additional training and supervision so that these mistakes are not repeated. As regards the NHS, Big Brother Watch is calling for better training within the NHS and custodial sentences for the worst lawbreakers.
Attorneys handling medical malpractice cases represent individuals who have suffered an injury based on illegal disclosure of medical information. They also defend medical professionals who are sued for malpractice.