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What is physician-patient privilege?

Wrongful death suits require careful planning, research and diligence in order to be successful. When a wrongful death suit is being constructed, physician-patient privilege is one of the most common areas of difficulty for the family and loved ones who are pursuing justice on behalf of someone they have lost. if you are working to build a wrongful death case that involves a physician, understanding the nature and limitations of physician-patient privilege is essential.

Broadly speaking, the law dictates at both a state and federal level that a physician must guard the privacy of a patient if the patient does not consent to having his or her medical information shared. This can prove to be quite problematic when a person has died and can no longer consent to medical disclosures, especially for those building a wrongful death case on his or her behalf.

It is possible, with the aid of the court, to compel a physician or medical establishment to disclose medical records by obtaining a waiver of physician-patient privilege. However, even if a waiver is obtained, this does not mean that absolutely all the decedent's medical records will become available. Medical records are broadly broken into two categories — medical and psychiatric. If the wrongful death suit does not have any element of psychiatric care, then any mental health records the decedent may have will most likely not be unsealed by obtaining a waiver.

If you are building a wrongful death suit, it is important to make sure that you have the right team fighting by your side. With proper guidance from an experienced attorney, you are able to confidently pursue justice with the knowledge that your rights will be protected throughout the process.

Source: Findlaw, "Wrongful Death Cases: Physician-Patient Privilege," accessed Jan. 12, 2017

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