The patient-physician privilege is what protects a patient’s personal information (including medical information) from the public. This privilege offers patients a remarkable amount of privacy; in a wrongful death claim, however, it can become a hindrance. There is often debate as to whether or not a patient’s information should be kept secret after death. While some believe that a patient’s privacy should always extend beyond death, others feel that there is no need to protect the privacy of the patient post-mortem – especially when it hinders a wrongful death claim or when a physician is hiding behind such privacy.
What is the Patient-Physician Privilege?
The patient-physician privilege is the right to privacy offered to individuals in medical settings. Under federal law, patients have the right to keep their personal medical information private and prohibit it’s being shared with the public unless they give their direct consent. Therefore, a physician could never disclose a patient’s current medications, diagnosis, or treatment to others without the patient’s consent first.
The privilege only applies to a patient’s private health information, or information that is not publicly known or already in public records. There are some exceptions to the patient-physician privilege, such as when a court order is issued that forces a physician to disclose a patient’s personal health information.
Using a Waiver of Privilege
Just because a patient is deceased does not necessarily mean that their privilege is dissolved. In some states, it is required by law that the deceased’s surviving family or estate representative sign a waiver of privilege before medical information can be disclosed.
Nonetheless, hospitals and physicians may still attempt to hide behind this privilege when a wrongful death suit is filed by claiming that a patient’s personal health information cannot be disclosed. This often slows or halts proceedings until an attorney can obtain a court order to release the information or find a family member who has the authority to sign a waiver.
After a dispute arises, the plaintiff’s right to medical records is also up for debate. However, holding medical records in order to thwart attempts to review for potential medical misconduct is unlawful.
After a waiver has been filed, great care must be taken to ensure that the waiver is not overstepped and only the information inside the waiver is disclosed. It is imperative that information regarding the memory of the deceased is not released to the public. Also, it is important to note that not all medical information is released after the completion of a waiver. Instead, the waiver must specify if they are requesting a patient’s physical or psychological medical records.
Do You Have a Wrongful Death Case? You have our Sympathies and our Desire to Help
If you have lost a loved one and feel that you may have a claim for wrongful death, we can assess your case, as well as assist you with any waivers of privilege required in order to obtain medical records. To get started, schedule a free consultation with us by calling 813-915-1110 or chat live online. Phones and online chat are answered 24/7.