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Physician disclosure might be malpractice

A court on the East Coast has ruled on a case involving disclosure of patient information in a way that could impact how Iowa doctors and hospitals do business. At issue were the applicability of different statutes of limitations to statements made by the physician about the patient without the patient's consent and the propriety of a private cause of action under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The plaintiff filed a complaint in a New Jersey court after the defendant physician revealed to a third party that the plaintiff was HIV-positive. During an emergency consultation related to the plaintiff's kidney failure, the doctor, a certified nephrologist, discussed the plaintiff's condition. HIPAA does not support private rights of action, but a HIPAA violation may be enough to support a tort claim under common law.

The plaintiff also claimed that his privacy rights were violated, regardless of the reach and limits of HIPAA, and that the disclosure constituted malpractice. The defendant doctor and hospital filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the one-year statute of limitations applicable to defamation claims should apply to the plaintiff's claims. The plaintiff replied that all three counts of the complaint should be subject to the personal injury statute of limitations, which is two years.

The court agreed with the plaintiff and allowed the case to proceed. According to the court, the doctor's disclosures could constitute a deviation from the required standard of care and may therefore support a personal injury claim due to medical malpractice. In a case where an individual suffers harm due to the negligence of a doctor or hospital, he or she may be entitled to recover for damages. An attorney with experience handling medical professional negligence cases will usually obtain the testimony of one or more medical experts in order to demonstrate the failure to exhibit the requisite standard of care.

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