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Failure to protect medical records can be medical malpractice

As many California patients know, doctors cannot share patients' confidential medical information without their patients' consent, expect in very limited circumstances. To do so may constitute a serious doctor error. What patients may not know, however, is what to do if their records are improperly shared by a medical provider.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, known commonly as HIPAA, federal law protects a patient's medical records as confidential information. Nonetheless, despite this protection, medical records can, and sometimes do, become available to those they should not be available to through improper record maintenance, improper disclosure to unauthorized persons or through data security breaches. Protected information extends beyond simply a patient's symptoms and course of treatment, and may also include information about a patient's family medical history, lifestyle and even genetic testing results.

If a patient's HIPAA privacy rights have been violated, such as when a doctor has improperly shared a patient's medical information, it may be appropriate to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services. An important initial step prior to making this filing may be to contact the party that disclosed the confidential information to ask that they obtain the return of the disclosed records and that the recipient of destroy their copies of the records.

Doctors do have certain authorizations to share patients' medical information as necessary to provide effective treatment, but crossing this line may constitute medical malpractice and may have a long-term impact on the security of a patient's personal information. Discussion with an attorney about how best to proceed following possible improper disclosure of records, including the possible request of a HIPAA investigation, may be in a patient's best interests.

Source: FindLaw, "What Can I Do After an Improper Disclosure of Medical Records?", accessed Oct. 9, 2015

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