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When is there a Breach in Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?

As a patient you have the right to doctor-patient confidentiality and any breaches thereof constitute negligence. To pursue the issue you may need help from a medical malpractice lawyer.

First, it is important to understand the scope of confidentiality. Doctors by the very nature of their work have access to highly sensitive information about their patients, which if such information leaks can cause embarrassment, loss of confidence in the health system and even financial damage for the patient.

The reason that there is a confidentiality relationship between the medical practitioner and the patient is to ensure that the patient can openly discuss medical issues and thus share vital information with the health practitioner in order to ensure accurate diagnosis and correct medical treatment. Without such a relationship, it will be difficult for the medical professional to provide quality medical care.

Once the patient approaches a medical professional for guidance or treatment they expect that the practitioner will hold the information shared in confidence. As such, the practitioner cannot disclose the patient’s medical information to other parties without the express consent of the patient, except in instances where the information must be shared to protect the public or for the purpose of medical aid.

Note that confidentiality is about more than the information that the patient shares with the physician. It also covers the patient’s medical records such as history, previous treatments and test results. The confidentiality extends to all the personnel working for the practitioner.

When any such private information is disclosed to a party not directly involved in the treatment of the patient without the patient’s consent then a breach occurs. In such an instance the patient will need help from a medical malpractice lawyer in taking legal steps against the practitioner.

The confidentiality lasts long after the patient has been treated. A doctor therefore cannot divulge medical history or any patient information even after the person is no longer a patient and even after the death of the patient. Should a breach occur, the patient can take legal steps against the practitioner for privacy invasion and for malpractice.

Confidentiality is an ethical principle in support of patient care. It is not a breach of confidentiality if it has been done with patient consent, in the interest of the public or when the practitioner is so required by law. For information to be confidential it must have the elements needed to make it confidential such as not already knowledge known by the public, and if disclosed without consent the disclosure must cause some time of harm to the patient. The information must furthermore be shared in a situation requiring the obligation to keep the information confidential and it must also be in public interest to keep the information confidential.

Such confidentiality breaches can easily occur where the medical staff members leave sensitive information about the patient in public places or where the staff members of a practitioner discuss patient treatments with their family or friends. Hospitals also have a duty to keep information safe and to follow protocol when discarding patient documents including theatre lists.

Call upon our attorneys if you have suffered emotional distress or financial damage because of a doctor-patient confidentiality breach and need help from a medical malpractice lawyer.


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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