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When Your Patient Makes the News

Thursday, August 22, 2019  
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Republished with permission from Professional Risk Management Services, Inc. (PRMS)

Donna Vanderpool, MBA, JD
VP, Risk Management at PRMS

With this weekend’s two unbelievable mass shootings, I wondered if any physicians were concerned that they may have been or still were treating the shooters. While we know that mental illness is not the primary cause of gun violence, there may be times when psychiatrists and physicians of other specialties find themselves horrified to see their patient in the news for any number of shocking reasons. If you experience this, you may want to keep these points in mind:

  • Consider contacting your professional liability insurance company – you may need to report an “event” and they may be able to provide guidance in responding to any requests for information.
  • A patient’s arrest or even death is not an exception to patient confidentiality.
  • IF YOU ARE CONTACTED BY THE PRESS: Do not speak to the media. If you were treating the person, do not confirm that the person was even a patient. You have a duty to maintain patient confidentiality.
  • IF YOU ARE CONTACTED BY A GOVERNMENTAL AGENT, such as law enforcement, the Medical Examiner, the prosecutor, etc. for information: 
    • Do not confirm the person was a patient.
    • Do not assume that anyone is entitled to information about your patient, even for investigation purposes, regardless of what the investigator may say.
    • The exceptions to the normal requirement of patient authorization required to release information are very, very limited.
    • In the event your professional liability insurance company cannot be reached for guidance, consider this for a response: “I cannot confirm the person is a patient. Any information I may have about this person would be confidential. I want to cooperate, but I need you to put your request in writing and cite your authority for the disclosure. Upon receipt, I will promptly process your request.”

The content of this post (“Content”) is for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice or judgment, or for other professional advice. Always seek the advice of your attorney with any questions you may have regarding the Content. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of the Content.