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Most people expect that information shared with their doctor for purposes of medical treatment will be kept confidential. In this day of electronic medical records, however, this expectation of privacy is more frequently violated. We are often asked whether a patient can bring a legal claim for the wrongful disclosure of medical information. Here is some of what you need to know.

HIPAA Does Not Help

Many people are generally familiar with the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, more commonly known as “HIPAA”. HIPAA is designed, in part, to protect the confidentiality of medical information. Most people are surprised to learn, however, that HIPAA does not allow individuals to bring legal action in the event that their medical information is improperly disclosed. The Department of Health and Human Services may issue fines for HIPAA violations, but patients cannot take legal action on their own under the HIPAA statute.

Ohio Law Allows Lawsuits for Wrongful Disclosure of Medical Information

Even before HIPAA became law, however, the Ohio Supreme Court created a right for patients to file a law suit if their confidential medical information was wrongful disclosed. In the 1999 case of Biddle v Warren Gen. Hospital, the Ohio Supreme Court noted that the law at the time did not adequately protect the rights of patients whose medical information was wrongful exposed. This lack of remedy for an obvious injustice justified the creation of a new “independent tort” allowing patients to sue for damages. The Court wrote:

We hold that in Ohio, an independent tort exists for the unauthorized, unprivileged disclosure to a third party of nonpublic medical information that a physician or hospital has learned within a physician-patient relationship.

Under some circumstances, medical providers are allowed to share patient information. For example, a doctor may share otherwise confidential medical information with another doctor who is also treating the same patient. If the disclosure of medical information is not permitted by law, however, a person disclosing confidential medical information may face legal action by the patient under Ohio law.

If you feel that your privacy has been violated as a result of the wrongful disclosure of medical information, we invite you to contact us to discuss your rights.