When Can a Doctor or Hospital Legally Release Confidential Information?

There are occasions when it is both permissible

and necessary for a doctor to reveal confidential information about you. He can discuss your case with another doctor in consultation. He can discuss it at a staff or committee meeting in the hospital, provided it is a regular hospital meeting attended only by the medical staff, and the discussions are confidential. He can disclose it to your health insurance company. When you fill out an insurance claim form you authorize him to do so. Also, all insurance companies, health or life, require a consent at the time you apply for a policy. They can come back later and ask your doctor about your medical condition.

You cannot sue a doctor for medical malpractice or dental malpractice for entries he makes in a hospital or clinical record in the course of your treatment, even if they are wrong. But, you can sue the doctor or the hospital if they make your record public without your written permission. The Joint Commission requires that all hospitals keep medical records secret and not allow

unauthorized people access to them. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information.

Another exception is when you have a reportable disease. The law requires a doctor to report certain communicable disease to the health department to protect the public, and the health authorities are supposed to keep it confidential. If they leak confidential information about you, you can sue the health department. Usually, what happens is if you think you have been the victim of a confidential information leak, you sue both the health department and the doctor, and then let them fight it out between themselves to see who pays the award.

A doctor can also be ordered to reveal confidential information about a patient, if he is testifying in court. However, the judge would probably only order him to do so if it were necessary to the case. Finally, the doctor can reveal information about you if you sue him for malpractice. In that case, you are considered to have made your condition public when you filed the lawsuit.