Legal Review: What Happens to Doctor-Patient Privilege During a Court Case?

Information in medical files is regarded as private, and rightly so. These records contain personal and sensitive information about the patients. However, doctors may be able to share this information in some legal instances.

According to medical ethics and other health laws, doctors and hospital staff are required to treat the records of patients as confidential. Normally, a doctor can only disclose such information if the patient permits it. But in certain legal situations, a doctor can disclose this information without breaching the doctor-patient confidentiality privilege.

What Does the HIPAA Say About Disclosures?

A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) report states that disclosing a patient’s details is a violation. A doctor must not share a patient’s information outside the need to provide treatment for the patient’s medical condition. This means doctors and other staff must keep patients’ records confidential, away from the public eye.

When Can Doctors Disclose a Patient’s Information?

As stated earlier, there are some legal situations where a doctor can share a patient’s information with or without consent. Below are some of them.

If permission is given

A doctor in a criminal case can provide details about a patient when the patient provides permission to do so. They will have to sign a document granting this consent. This document must specify what particular files will be disclosed to the courtroom.

Importantly, such permissions only work once for that particular case and do not cover future cases. The doctor has committed a violation if other details outside the agreement appear in the courtroom.

If there is a need for help

In cases where the patient needs help, the doctor can disclose details about the patient. An example is when a patient cannot make decisions after an injury or because they are incapable of doing so. In many similar cases, the family members are involved in these processes.

If the patient has an illness

When a person receiving treatment cannot make rational decisions in a legal setting, the doctor may need to disclose some details. These details could explain the patient’s illness and why the patient is unfit to stand trial. It is also possible for the patient’s treatment to impair their decision-making.

If the government requires a patient’s information

While the government usually respects the privacy of a patient’s medical records, they may still require to see some basic information. This could include birth certificates, death certificates, reports of certain diseases, and treatment. The government may also require reports of suspected cases of child abuse and mental health issues that can be a threat.

If there is an issue in court

In the case involving a personal injury claim, a judge might request to know about the injuries and medication. This will make the doctor a witness in the courtroom to testify about the injuries. The doctor must disclose information about the patient if health concerns are part of a proceeding.


Doctors and other medical staff are expected to be confidential about their patients’ information. Only in certain situations can doctors disclose the records of their patients,” says medical malpractice lawyer Russell Berkowitz.

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