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Federal Court Discusses a Defendant’s Right to Obtain a Plaintiff’s Protected Health Information in Medical Malpractice Cases

Federal law generally prohibits the disclosure of a patient’s protected health information without the patient’s consent. In certain instances, however, a patient’s acts may constitute a waiver of the right to object to other parties obtaining the patient’s health information. For example, if a patient files a medical malpractice lawsuit against a medical provider, thereby placing the patient’s health at issue, the courts may allow the provider to obtain information from other parties that treated the patient, even if the patient does not grant permission. This was demonstrated in a recent federal case. If you were hurt by the incompetence of a doctor or nurse, it is advisable to consult a skillful Maryland medical malpractice attorney to assess whether you may have a viable claim for damages.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff was admitted to the intensive care burn unit of the defendant hospital with symptoms of a serious skin infection. She ultimately lost vision in both of her eyes due to the defendant’s employee’s failure to provide her with proper care. She then filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant.

Allegedly, during the course of discovery, the defendant filed a motion asking the court to allow it to obtain information from numerous providers that treated the plaintiff without engaging in the formal discovery process. In other words, the defendant’s attorney wished to contact them without the use of a subpoena or discovery request. The plaintiff objected, arguing that it would violate her doctor-patient relationships.

A Defendant’s Right to Obtain a Plaintiff’s Protected Health Information

After reviewing the matter, the court noted that federal regulations that implement HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) dictate that a patient’s protected health information could be disclosed during the course of any administrative or judicial proceeding, in response to an order, as long as the disclosure is limited to the information expressly indicated by the order. Further, the court explained prior rulings held that when a plaintiff places his or her medical condition at issue by filing a civil lawsuit, ex parte interviews with the plaintiff’s treating doctors are a permissible means of conducting informal discovery.

The court stated that while the rulings regarding the informal discovery of a plaintiff’s health information pre-dated HIPAA, such discovery was nonetheless generally permissible in medical negligence cases. The court clarified, though, that a defendant is not entitled to conduct such discovery. Rather, the defendant must demonstrate good cause for allowing such an investigation, such as the existence of a large number of treating physicians. In the subject case, the court found that the defendant adequately demonstrated the need for ex parte interviews of the plaintiff’s providers, as the plaintiff was treated by dozens of doctors, many of which could not be subpoenaed. As such, the court granted the motion.

Confer with an Assertive Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you sustained injuries due to negligent medical care, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney regarding your rights. The assertive Maryland medical malpractice attorneys of Arfaa Law Group are dedicated to helping injured parties seek justice in the civil courts. If we represent you, we will fight tirelessly on your behalf. We can be contacted through our form online or at (410) 889-1850 to set up a meeting.

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