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Medical malpractice and physician-patient privilege

A physician in Illinois is prohibited by law from divulging any information the doctor may have on a patient while attending to their healthcare needs and when providing the necessary medical care. This prohibition against disclosing confidential patient information is referred to as the physician-patient privilege. However, one may wonder as to what happens to this physician-patient privilege in cases of medical malpractice against the physician.

As a matter of public policy it is important for patients to feel comfortable with sharing intimate details about their health and having their privacy be protected, but, as with any law, there are exceptions. Some examples where the physician-patient privilege does not apply include when there is a criminal investigation or a homicide trial, and disclosing information directly relates to the facts of the case.

Similar to a criminal case, if there is civil lawsuit, such as personal injury lawsuit or medical malpractice lawsuit against the physician, the privilege does not apply. Additionally, the privilege does not apply when the patient or the patient's representative gives consent to disclose information, or in cases where the physical and mental status of the patient is in question when it comes to their estate and will.

It is important to keep in mind that typically in medical malpractice lawsuits several healthcare professionals, such as nurses, specialists, other hospital staff and even the hospital itself may be implicated and those individuals may be privy to a patient's confidential health information. Anyone who believes their personal information has been used unlawfully may have legal options to consider.

Source: Illinois General Assembly, "Ch. 110 par. 8-802 - Physician and patient," accessed June 8, 2015

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