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Medical Law

Medical Law on the Topic of Patient Record Confidentiality

Medical law is complex. As such, it is highly recommended to seek legal guidance from an attorney specialising in medical law if you believe that you have been a victim of medical malpractice in South Africa. Doctor-patient confidentiality also falls within the scope of medical law. Though it may seem like an ethical conduct issue, the healthcare professional, by law, has an obligation to ensure compliance with confidentiality requirements.

The South African Constitution protects the right to privacy and, thus, privacy in communication. In addition, medical professionals under common law have a duty to ensure confidentiality in terms of the patient’s information. Workers in the medical profession often enter into employment contracts, which include confidentiality clauses. The National Health Act stipulates that the information of the healthcare service users may not be divulged without the patient’s consent.

A healthcare professional may only divulge patient information if the disclosure of the patient’s information is ordered by a court of law or where if it is required to prevent a threat to public health. It is recommended to call on a medical law attorney for advice regarding permissible disclosure of patient information. The healthcare professional must keep the patient's information secure by storing it in a manner that prevents casual access to the information. Moreover, it is the healthcare professional’s responsibility to ensure that when they send confidential information, they do so in a secure and appropriate manner.

The healthcare professional has a duty to inform the patient of the type of information held, as well as how, when, why, and to whom it might be shared. According to South Africa's medical laws, the patient has the right to withhold consent regarding the sharing of their personal information for reasons not related to their immediate medical treatment to non-medical parties.

Medical law covers confidentiality regarding a person’s request to terminate a pregnancy too. Unless the person elects to disclose the request, the healthcare professional may not share such. Furthermore, in terms of the Children’s Act, information about a child’s HIV status, contraceptive usage, or virginity may not be disclosed without the expressed consent of the child. The only time it is permissible to disclose such information is when it is in the best interest of the child. The information can then only be disclosed to the parent, guardian, caregiver, or relevant family member. It is, however, important to seek legal guidance if you are not sure whether such disclosure is permissible.

Confidential patient information may be disclosed with the written consent of the patient, when required by law, and when it is essential for the protection of public health. For medical law guidance and assistance in litigating doctor-patient confidentiality breaches, contact Adele van der Walt Incorporated today.


Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Call on our attorneys for legal advice, rather than relying on the information herein to make any decisions. The information is relevant to the date of publishing – April 2019.

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