Thursday, January 11, 2018

Doctor Beware

A health care provider may be liable for the release of confidential patient information, according to a decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court

The plaintiff sought to recover damages from the defendant health care provider for, inter alia, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress in connection with the defendant’s allegedly improper release of certain confidential medical records in responding to a subpoena issued in the course of a separate paternity action filed against the plaintiff. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing, inter alia, that it was entitled to judgment on the plaintiff’s negligence claims because Connecticut’s common law did not recognize a cause of action against health care providers for breach of the duty of confidentiality in the course of responding to a subpoena. The trial concluded that this state had not yet recognized a common-law privilege for communications between physicians and their patients, and, accordingly, granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the plaintiff’s negligence claims. On the plaintiff’s appeal, held that, in light of applicable principles of public policy, case law from other jurisdictions, relevant provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, 42 U.S.C. § 1320d et seq., and the statute (§ 52-146o) recognizing an evidentiary privilege arising from the physician-patient relationship, a duty of confidentiality arises from the physician-patient relationship and that unauthorized disclosure of confidential information obtained in the course of that relationship for the purpose of treatment gives rise to a cause of action sounding in tort against the health care provider, unless the disclosure is otherwise allowed by law, and that, because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant violated that duty of confidentiality by the manner in which it disclosed the plaintiff’s medical records in response to the subpoena, the trial court improperly granted summary judgment for the defendant on the plaintiff’s negligence claims; moreover, the defendant could not prevail on its claim that summary judgment should nevertheless be granted in this case because the plaintiff’s medical records were disclosed in response to a subpoena and § 52-146o does not require a patient’s consent for such a disclosure, as the mere existence of a subpoena does not preclude recovery for breach of confidentiality, the fact that a disclosure is in response to a subpoena does not necessarily ensure compliance with § 52-146o, and the defendant apparently complied neither with the face of the subpoena nor with the federal regulation (45 C.F.R. § 164.512 [e]) governing responses to such subpoenas.

(One justice concurring separately)

Argued May 1, 2017—officially released January 16, 2018

 There is a concurring opinion. (Mike Frisch)

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