How to Prove Breach of Confidentiality

Paper with word confidential printed across representing a data breach or violation of confidentiality

To prove a breach of confidentiality in the medical field, you have to show that the medical professional you’re accusing had a duty to provide care, the professional breached that duty by violating doctor-patient confidentiality, and the breach resulted in damages. Anything your doctor shares without your consent can be a breach of confidentiality unless there’s an exception under the law. You can sue your doctor for breach of confidentiality and recover compensation for your physical, psychological, and financial losses. Here’s more on how to prove breach of confidentiality.

What Is a Breach of Confidentiality?

A breach of confidentiality happens when data or information that was provided in confidence is disclosed to a third party without the owner’s consent. Confidentiality breaches can be deliberate or unintentional. They are significant, especially in the legal profession, the medical field, and in military or national security matters. A breach of confidentiality can lead to legal action being taken by an individual who feels that he or she has suffered harm due to the violation.

Breach of Confidentiality in Medical Professions

A breach of confidentiality in the medical field occurs when a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health therapist, or another healthcare professional discloses your private information to a third party without your consent. One study found a breach of confidentiality to occur every 62.5 hours.

Medical professionals are legally and ethically obligated to maintain patient confidentiality in their practice. There are a number of laws that apply to Chicago healthcare providers with regard to maintaining the confidentiality of a patient’s health information. The professional duty of confidentiality covers what you tell a doctor and any observations and opinions the doctor may have after examining or assessing you.

Exceptions to Breach of Confidentiality in the Medical Profession

Several exceptions allow a medical professional to break confidentiality and disclose private information. These situations include:

  • Communicating a threat: A healthcare professional may disclose some information you tell him or her if he or she believes that you represent a threat to yourself or others. He or she will do so to protect you from harm, such as when suicide is threatened, or prevent you from causing severe harm to others, for example, if you have threatened violence against a particular individual.
  • Consent: A doctor may release confidential information if you’ve freely agreed to the disclosure.
  • Continued coordinated treatment: A doctor can release confidential information that is necessary to facilitate coordinated services to state agencies. The disclosure is limited to the services you’ve received or will receive.
  • Legal proceedings: When you initiate a medical malpractice lawsuit, your doctor’s treatment and medical history will likely be at the center of your case. Therefore, patients almost always waive doctor-patient confidentiality when they file a malpractice lawsuit.
  • Evidence of abuse: Your doctor can breach confidentiality if there is disclosure or evidence of neglect or abuse.

How to Prove Breach of Confidentiality

If your doctor violates the duty of doctor-patient confidentiality, you can bring a lawsuit against him or her with the help of a breach of confidentiality lawyer. A confidentiality breach is a form of medical malpractice that’s punishable by law. Like any other form of medical malpractice, there are certain elements you will need to prove.

Duty of Confidentiality

The duty of confidentiality is inherent in a doctor-patient relationship. A doctor has an inherent legal and ethical duty to maintain confidentiality as he or she handles sensitive information disclosed to him or her over the course of a professional relationship with a patient. Therefore, to prove that a doctor had the duty to maintain confidentiality, you must show that a doctor-patient relationship existed.

A doctor-patient relationship starts as soon as the doctor agrees to provide care for you. From that point, the doctor owes you a duty of confidentiality, unless an exception applies. The duty of your physician to keep your medical and personal information private stays in effect even after the doctor stops treating you. The duty of confidentiality remains even after a patient dies.

Breach of Duty of Confidentiality

You must show the doctor deviated from the standard of care by breaching doctor-patient confidentiality. You will need to prove that you shared the information with the doctor or medical professional in confidence, but the doctor misused the information. Your lawyer will help you gather evidence to show that the breach occurred.

For example, your physician may have left sensitive documents unattended or failed to dispose of them securely, spoke about you in public spaces, or communicated private medical information to medical personnel not involved in your treatment. A psychiatrist could also commit psychiatric malpractice by sharing private information with your employer, loved ones, or other third parties without your consent. All these actions could allow sensitive personal information, such as a stigmatizing illness, to spread.

You Suffered Harm or Injury

For you to recover compensatory damages, you have to prove that you suffered harm. The harm doesn’t have to be physical. You could also suffer severe mental or emotional damage. You could experience embarrassment, damage to your reputation, discrimination, emotional pain and suffering, and job loss.

For example, you could prove you experienced emotional distress by showing the mental health counseling fees you paid after seeking treatment. Other items that could show you suffered damages include evidence of lost wages due to time off work or a lost job, costs of purchasing credit protection or identity theft insurance, and medical bills you’ve paid.

Causal Link Between the Breach and Injury

You must prove that the injuries or damages you suffered resulted from the medical professional’s breach of duty. This could be achieved by showing that you couldn’t have suffered the damages if the healthcare professional hadn’t shared your private information or left it vulnerable to unauthorized access.

Remember, whether you’re a victim of mental health malpractice or any other type of malpractice, filing a lawsuit helps you recover damages for your losses, as well as help protect other patients from experiencing the same harm in the future.

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