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Can my California doctor share my medical records?

California patients place a great deal of trust in their doctors. Patients expect to be treated not only competently, but also with respect and thoughtful care. One element of the doctor-patient relationship that relies on respect is the concept of doctor-patient confidentiality. Under this concept, a doctor must keep a patient's medical information confidential and use it only to benefit the patient. Failure to do so may constitute medical malpractice.

Due to the sensitive and private nature of medical care, the concept of doctor-patient confidentiality ensures that patients can feel comfortable telling their doctors about their medical information, which is often extremely personal. This confidential relationship ultimately should benefit the level of care a patient receives because the doctor has a full picture of the patient's health situation. Before divulging a patient's medical information to a third party, a doctor is supposed to gain the consent of the patient.

The confidential doctor-patient relationship protects information that a patient tells a doctor about his or her medical history and current condition; the doctor's opinions following an assessment of the patient; plus the patient's medical records. Confidentiality also typically protects the communications that a patient has with a doctor's staff.

In the event a physician discloses a patient's medical information to a third party without consent and the patient is harmed by this disclosure, the patient may have a cause of action stemming from doctor negligence. There are exceptions to the prohibition on disclosing confidential information, including disclosure of information to state health officials or pursuant to court orders.

If a patient's medical information has been improperly disclosed by a California physician, the patient may wish to seek legal counsel to discuss their rights and options, including a potential malpractice claim.

Source: FindLaw, "Breaches of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality," accessed Sept. 20, 2015

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