Doctor-Patient Confidentiality In Wrongful Death Lawsuits

All medical professionals are expected to give patients the required treatment that is necessary for their overall health and treatment. What happens if doctors do not uphold their duty to treat the patient, and the patient dies due to medical malpractice? If a medical professional has proven to be negligent in their practice, and their carelessness has caused the death of a patient, then it is considered medical malpractice. A lawsuit may be filed against the medical professional, or hospital, in question for causing a wrongful death.

Medical malpractice may prove to be a difficult case in court though, as there are various state laws about doctor-patient confidentiality that may make it harder for a third party to obtain medical records of the decedent (patient that died). Doctor-patient confidentiality is meant to be beneficial for all parties involved, but sometimes that is not the case.

Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

Doctor-patient confidentiality is used as a means to benefit the interests of both the doctor and the patient. To disclose any information to another party requires the consent of either the doctor, the patient, or both.

Medical information that is protected under doctor-patient confidentiality may include:

  • Any information a patient tells their doctor
  • Conclusions, or diagnosis, after examination of the patient
  • All medical records, such as:
    • Lab reports
    • X-rays
    • Pre-existing medical conditions
    • Medical history

Medical conditions are typically kept confidential between the doctor and the patient. This allows the patient to feel more comfortable disclosing any important information regarding their condition to their physician. Sometimes pertinent medical information may be embarrassing for the patient. So, the confidentiality agreement protects the privacy of the patient and makes it easier for them to disclose all information to the physician.

Allowing patients to tell their doctors all medical information is beneficial for the doctor in making a better diagnosis as well. It also helps the doctor provide the best medical care for the patient’s health. The doctor is required to use patient information solely for the benefit of the patient’s overall health and treatment.

A medical professional is not legally allowed to give out patient information or medical records to any other party without the consent of the patient. So, what happens if the patient in question dies?

Waiving the Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

Since the patient has passed away, there is no way for them to give consent on whether or not their medical information may be shared with another party. The doctor in question of medical malpractice may also be hesitant to disclose this information with a third party because it may be evidence that their negligence was the cause of the patient’s death. Unfortunately, in lawsuits for wrongful death in medical malpractice, the doctor-patient confidentiality agreement may hinder a wrongful death lawyer Orlando, FL residents trust from obtaining important medical information that may shed light on the case.

States have various laws regarding the waiving of doctor-patient confidentiality agreements after the death of the patient. Some states allow the decedent’s immediate family or personal representative to waive the confidentiality agreement (doctor-patient privilege) for the decedent. Although the doctor-patient privilege may be waived in certain circumstances, doctors and hospitals may still be unwilling to provide the medical records of the deceased patient to attorneys.

If a plaintiff is seeking the decedent’s medical records for future litigations in a wrongful death suit, this is typically reason enough to waive the doctor-patient privilege. This would then allow the plaintiff to use the medical information as evidence against the doctor or hospital accused of negligence. If the doctor-patient privilege is waived for litigation purposes, then only medical information that is pertinent to the wrongful death lawsuit may be revealed; any medical information that may hinder the reputation of the deceased patient is generally withheld.



Thank you to our contributors at Needle & Ellenberg, P.A. for the above information.