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Breach of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

According to the American Medical Association's (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics, the information that is disclosed to any physician (doctor, surgeon, psychologist, etc.) during the course of their doctor-patient relationship must remain utterly confidential. Confidentiality is protected in order to allow for a patient to feel entirely comfortable with the information that is disclosed to their physician, thus, giving the doctor as much information as needed to make an accurate diagnosis based on the information that is provided to them.

How an Albuquerque Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help

In theory, the confidentiality that is required of a physician-patient relationship promotes the healthiest, and most professional, relationship possible. In practice, however, there are many digressions that do not adhere to the strict guidelines which have been established by the AMA. As identified by the American Medical Association, patient confidentiality is more than just a legal duty, it is also an ethical duty. The legal obligations of a physician are specifically referenced in the U.S. Constitution, as well as by federal and state regulations. It is because of these laws that courts typically allow for a cause of action when a patient's confidentiality has been breached. It is exactly at this time that an Albuquerque personal injury attorney should be contacted.

In spite of the professional standards and legal regulations that exist in regard to doctor-patient confidentiality, the prevalence of confidential patient records being made accessible to others is continuously on the rise. As technology is enhanced, the electronic systems used among health care professionals increases, and so too does the transmission of patient information via electronic means. This has resulted in integrated delivery systems that are accessible by all physicians within a given network, thus allowing for access to confidential patient information and viewing by members within the shared databases and clinical depositories. Although this has been promoted as an effective way for doctors to treat patients more comprehensively, it has also been criticized as a potential breach of a patient's confidentiality.

How Long Does Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Last?

As a medical patient, you have a right to doctor-patient confidentiality even after you have stopped seeing or being treated by your doctor. A patient's right to confidentiality also continues after their death.

When Can Confidentiality Be Breached?

Before filing a medical malpractice suit for a breach of confidentiality, patients first need to understand that there are a few exceptions to the rule. Although it is generally true that doctors will be expected to maintain the confidential information that is provided to them by a patient, there are some situations in which maintaining said information could be detrimental to the patient's own health and well-being. Under such circumstances, it is actually necessary for the medical professional to alert others.

  • When it comes to matters of life or death, the confidential relationship between a patient and their doctor is not black and white. For example, a psychologist whose patient has admitted to suicidal thoughts or ideations is expected to report this to the proper health care professional, whether or not the action threatens to breach the patient's confidentiality.
  • Confidential information can also be released to other medical professionals if the patient gives consent to do so. In order for medical records to be exposed to a third party, the patient must expressly authorize the release of information. Furthermore, who can receive said information must be identified in the release, i.e. the patient's insurance company, the patient's family, the patient's employer, the patient's attorney, etc. Only under circumstances in which a doctor has received express consent from his or her patient, can they reveal confidential information about the patient without being in violation of the health care system's professional code of ethics.
  • New Mexico requires mandatory reporting of sexually transmitted diseases. In New Mexico when a doctor diagnoses or treats a patient for an STD or STI they are required to report it to the public health department. However, an unauthorized disclosure of HIV or STD test results can be classified as a petty misdemeanor.

If you feel that your confidentiality as a patient was breached by an attending physician, we urge you to call our office immediately.

Upon further review of your situation, we can determine whether or not there is cause for legal action, and we will help you move forward from there. Contact us today.

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