When you enter a professional relationship with a medical provider, they automatically agree to avoid any unnecessary disclosures of your medical and patient records. That agreement is known as doctor-patient confidentiality.
But sometimes, patient information is mishandled, creating a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality.
What is protected under doctor-patient confidentiality?
In Florida, your medical information has two main layers of legal protection.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
This 1996 federal act known as HIPAA protects the privacy of all identifying health information.
This includes information in your medical records, conversations between your medical providers, and medical billing information.
This law’s privacy rule requires healthcare providers and organizations to develop and maintain practices that protect your healthcare information.
The three main types of entities required to abide by HIPAA include most healthcare providers, healthcare insurance agencies, and healthcare clearinghouses. Any subcontracted third-parties or business associates granted access to your medical records by these entities also must abide by HIPPA.
HIPAA gives you the ability to provide your medical information to whomever you wish, providing you consent to the release of your records. Once you consent to share that information with your selected parties, your medical providers can’t be held responsible if those parties share your information. HIPAA limits who can access your information without your consent to entities such as law enforcement agencies.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services states that this law covers all communications of protected medical information, whether that communication is oral, electronic, or written. Medical or patient information that cannot be used to identify you, also called “de-identified” information, isn’t protected under HIPAA.
Florida State Statutes
Several Florida statutes guard your right to medical and patient privacy.
Some of the protections include:
- Prohibiting the sharing of patient records to parties other than the patient, their healthcare providers, and their legal representatives without written consent
- Requiring patient notifications of breaches or court-ordered releases of their medical and mental health information
- Prohibiting patient information from being used for marketing or solicitation purposes without written release and permission
There are exceptions to general protections, such as the statute that requires designated mental health treatment or receiving facilities to share patient information with members of Florida’s statewide or local advocacy councils.
Other exemptions include the release of medical records related to infectious diseases, the use of “de-identified” information for scientific or general health purposes, and the disclosure of mental health information if a patient threatens to harm themselves or others.
Can I sue for a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality?
Unfortunately, you can’t sue over HIPAA violations. Instead, you must file a complaint with the appropriate federal agency, usually within 180 days of learning about the violation. The agency will investigate the claim; If the accused party is found guilty of violating HIPAA, they may be subject to fines or jail time.
However, you can sue for a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality under Florida law. Such violations are considered medical malpractice, and you may be able to recover damages including emotional pain and suffering.
If you’re confused about whether a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality can be the basis of a lawsuit, contact an experienced Florida medical malpractice lawyer. A lawyer will know what legal options are available to you.
What should I do if my doctor-patient confidentiality was violated?
If you believe your medical information was wrongfully shared with someone or that your medical record privacy rights were violated, contact a Florida medical malpractice lawyer right away. State law limits how long you have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, so consult with an expert as soon as you can.
You have a right to privacy, especially when it comes to what happens between you and your medical providers. You shouldn’t have to be afraid of disclosing sensitive information to your doctors, something that could lead to self-censorship, delays in treatment, or misdiagnosis.