Patient confidentiality is a fundamental rule of any medical practice, physician, or healthcare worker. Without patient confidentiality, patients would not feel free to tell the doctor information that pertains to their well-being. We have all heard of patient confidentiality, but what does it mean exactly when it comes to the law? Confidentiality isn’t just an ethical code of conduct, it’s the law in most states, including Kentucky.
Patient-Doctor Confidentiality applies to all communications and information within the relationship. This confidentiality agreement doesn’t just include things you might tell your doctor, but also any diagnoses or conclusions that your doctor makes, as well as your medical records, and includes anyone who works in the physicians office as well. That relationship exists whenever a patient seeks medical advice or treatment from a doctor or that doctors staff and when an expectation of privacy exists. This is a bit of a grey area because the privacy expectation does not have to be in writing, but can be implied based on the circumstances. For example, if you go to the doctor for an exam the it is obvious that any communication at that appointment is confidential. But what if your physician is also a friend of yours and you are at a party and you ask their opinion on a medical issue. In that situation confidentiality does not apply.
A breach of confidentiality is when a doctor, or someone in the office, discloses information about a party to someone without the consent of the patient. Exceptions to doctor-patient confidentiality under state law require doctors to share confidentiality information in certain situations based on public policy concerns. For example, in most states doctors are obligated to breach confidentiality if they suspect child abuse. In many states hospitals are legally obligated to report gunshot wounds or dog bites.
Many medical offices ask patients to sign a form authorizing the consent to share confidential information. These waivers are limited in scope, but do allow some information to be shared with your consent. For example, a person may ok the sharing of information with their spouse if necessary for their own benefit.
The rules of doctor-patient confidentiality change drastically when you file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical malpractice lawyers in Kentucky run into this issue all the time. If you sue a doctor for medical malpractice, you have to file a complaint disclosing all the otherwise confidential doctor-patient communications. The act of filing a lawsuit and making this information public is treated as express consent for the doctor to disclose confidential information regarding the treatment at issue. You can’t sue a doctor and then use confidentiality to prevent them from defending the allegations so it is often a very sensitive process.