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Patient Privacy: Is Sharing Medical Information Malpractice?

Pills and PHMWhen you visit a doctor or other medical professional, you expect that your information will be handled appropriately and with care. If it is not, it can cause both personal and professional issues for you, as well as constituting a significant breach of a doctor’s duty of confidentiality. You may even be able to mount a case against the doctor for medical malpractice.

Privacy Laws and HIPAA

Your doctor is bound by ethical rules of his or her profession never to reveal your medical information, unless it will be used to benefit you - and, most often, unless your consent has been received. In California, medical privacy is governed by the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (CMIA), as well as the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Under these laws, all individually identifiable medical information must be kept confidential except in specific situations. However, that list of situations has gotten longer as time has passed. In certain cases, such as those related to law enforcement, your consent to the release of your information is assumed.

There are specific types of “sensitive” information that California requires a specific written authorization in order to release, including psychotherapy notes or substance abuse treatment plans. However, these are the only defined exceptions to the general rule, which is that no authorization is required for “normal” purposes. Non-sensitive data will be used for all manner of purposes, including marketing, regardless of your preferences. By law, this is not malpractice.

Bringing Suit

A doctor’s duty of confidentiality to their patient lasts, as does an attorney’s to their client, not only during the time of treatment, but afterward as well. Providing the patient’s medical information to anyone outside of the limited exceptions in California law is malpractice if the components of the cause of action can be proved. Upholding the duty of confidentiality is part of a general duty of care owed by doctors to their patients, and if a doctor’s conduct breaches that duty of care, it is often actionable.

To hold a medical professional liable for malpractice, their conduct must have breached the duty of care owed to the patient, and that conduct must have been the direct cause of the patient’s injuries. These tenets also satisfy a cause of action for negligence, but negligence and malpractice differ in that the duty of care required for malpractice is much more specific - negligence requires no definitive standard of care.

While there may be no tangible physical damages from a breach of patient confidentiality, it is entirely plausible that a patient could sustain severe damage to their relationships both personal and professional. If, for example, a doctor divulges that a patient was treated for a dangerous or damaging condition, an employer could deem the patient a health risk and terminate them. California also recognizes a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress, which could certainly occur if a doctor divulged a patient’s condition that was embarrassing or harmful, such as a sexually transmitted disease.

An Experienced Attorney Can Answer Your Questions

Patients generally have an expectation that their sensitive information will be treated with the respect it deserves. If your trust has been breached by a doctor’s careless talk, you may have a case. The dedicated San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at the firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. understand the feeling of betrayal that can come from having your privacy violated, and we will do our best to answer your questions about the process of seeking redress. Contact us today at (408) 289-1417 to set up a free consultation. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Alameda, Monterey, Santa Clara, San Benito and San Mateo.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.