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When to Use a Medical Lawyer Regarding Doctor-Patient Confidentiality and Informed Consent

Many people don’t know when to use a medical lawyer and often wait too long before seeking legal advice on topics such as doctor-patient confidentiality breaches and lack of informed consent on medical treatments. A brief look at the issue of doctor-patient confidentiality is provided to answer some of the questions regarding when to use a medical lawyer or how to know when one can take legal action regarding lack of informed consent.

The doctor-patient confidentiality ethical code is in place to help patients to be comfortable in sharing important information with their physicians. Such information includes medical history, actions that may have led to their particular medical conditions, or disclosure of sensitive information about their health. The physician uses the information to make an accurate diagnosis and to prescribe the correct course of treatment. However, such information isn’t limited to the information that the patient shared, but includes the medical records of the patient.

Disclosure of such information to third parties without the express consent of the patient constitutes a breach in confidentiality. However, there are circumstances when the physician is allowed to disclose the information to third parties not directly involved in the treatment of the patient such as when:

  • Instructed by a court order.Lega
  • Disclosure is in public interest.
  • Health insurance requires the information.

The information the physician has about the patient may only be used to the benefit of the patient. This includes the physician’s conclusions, X-rays, blood test results, and communication between the physician and the patient. The confidentiality extends to the responsibility of all the staff members working with the doctor in treatment of the patient and the office personnel who work with the patient records.

When the information is leaked or disclosed without express consent of the patient and the disclosure causes damages and injury to the patient, the patient should use a medical lawyer to handle the litigation aspects. Note that the doctor-patient confidentiality is valid even after the patient is no longer under the care of the physician and even after the patient’s death.

Informed consent is another area in which medical practitioners sometimes err. The patient must provide consent to a particular course of treatment. However, if the patient is unable to do so because of a mental or medical condition, then a person who is the guardian of the patient or a close family member who can take responsibility for giving consent must be approached. If the medical condition is critical and immediate treatment is needed, such as at the scene of an accident, the medical professional can take the necessary steps to treat the patient.

The issue of informed consent often occurs where the doctor fails to disclose possible and reasonable alternatives to a proposed treatment or when the doctor doesn’t disclose all the risks of the particular treatment. The caregiver isn’t required to provide an exhaustive list of risks, but should at least provide the patient with reasonable explanation of possible risks and outcomes. Where failure to do so leads to injury and damages to the patient, it is time to call in the help of a medical lawyer to assess the particulars and to help the patient in taking the necessary legal steps against the physician.


Note that the information in this article is for information purposes only and should not be seen as an attempt to provide legal advice. We strongly recommend that you contact us at Adele van der Walt Incorporated for professional legal advice.

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