Infectious Diseases - Disclosure Issues for Patient and Doctor

Legality in the disclosure of infectious diseases and the necessity to ensure other parties are aware of the issue is often a gray area with states and across the nation. This may depend on the specific incident, type of disease and if exposure requires a quarantine or other measures to restrict the movement of the infection.

Patient Confidentiality

One of the complications in disclosing information about an infectious disease is the patient confidentiality clause with a doctor and another patient. If he or she suffers from a contagious and infectious illness, the doctor usually must keep his or her confidence in the matter or face legal issues later. The problem usually occurs through the problem in other patients in the immediate area catching the disease. Some states may impose laws that require medical professionals and staff members to explain the matter to anyone that could face immediate exposure. Other states may leave the matter up to the doctor or nurses attending
the matter in the facility.

If the patient has the option to tell others, he or she may limit who knows about the illness or disease. This would restrict a doctor from telling another patient in the vicinity of the other party. However, the medical facility would take as any precautions in spreading the disease to other parties. This is necessary through medical standards and to avoid patient-to-patient infections. Medical staff use gloves for single use, equipment and tools that have disposable parts and monitor for cases of contamination or infection of others in the office or facility. Additional measures are usually in place if the person has an infectious disease.

Disclosures to Other Patients

When a person has an infectious disease that requires certain types of contact such as blood to blood exchange, the doctor may have little to no obligation with informing anyone else of the individual’s condition. The disclosure of the disease generally requires an immediate health concern that could cause further injury or illness due to proximity or contact with the disease that results in transmission. However, hospital and healthcare staff must also follow the Freedom of Information Legislation rules and the Privacy legislation guidelines. These regulations apply to both the private hospital or doctor’s office visits as well as to the public contact.

Consent to Disclosure

When there is no immediate health concern, the doctor or other medical staff members have no obligation to inform anyone of the infectious disease as per the regulations in place. The only times the details are available are when the patient gives consent to do so for others in the office or healthcare facility. The condition is sensitive information and must remain private unless consent is given for others to know about the problem. A primary concern in permitting other patients’ knowledge about the diseases is transmission. It is often necessary to hire a lawyer if the matter becomes legally complicated.

The Breach of Confidentiality

When the individual with the infectious disease does not give permission for details to others, the doctor or medical staff members may accidentally breach confidentiality through leaving paperwork out or by talking about the matter nearby another patient. If these situations arise, the patient with the disease may have a valid claim against the individual or the hospital for the breach. This could involve a breach of the duty of care that causes an injury through the actions or behavior of the medical staff. While the claim is not an easy matter in the courtroom, the victim may want to pursue the matter if he or she suffers a negative reputation or stigma in the community from these actions.

There are exceptions to privacy obligations that exist in law enforcement and court orders. If the court or police need the information for a case or claim, the hospital has an obligation to provide the details even if it is a breach of privacy to the patient. Other permitted health situations include the disclosure for medical or other research or when there is a need for a complication or analysis of statistical data. These are relevant to public safety and various medical concerns in the area.

Legal Help in Suing for Disclosure of Infectious Disease

For the breach in the duty of care and confidentiality, the patient may need to hire a lawyer to sue the medical staff member or the hospital for the lapse in judgment. This may help in pursuing compensation.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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