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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
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    4

    Default Doctor Friend is Giving Out Medical Details

    My question involves public health law in the State of: MA

    A relative is friends with a psychiatrist (now retired). Relative had been in treatment for depression, her MD-friend stepped in during period of financial difficulties to help renew some scripts when she’d run out of meds (basic anti-depressants). MD friend was also aware of my relative’s issues and on a few occasions saw her in office for informal “consults”. Not the wisest given their socializing, but it happens.

    Relative and MD-friend had socialized with the same circle of friends for years. Some of these people came to belong to organizations/belief systems that do not approve of psych drugs/treatments. Despite MD-friend being a psychiatrist they continued to engage in the creative/commercial pursuits they’d casually shared over years. My relative never told any of these people about her medical treatment or drug usage, as it was obviously none of their business.

    Imagine my relative’s surprise when she recently received a signed letter from one of this social group, stating that she would not be able to continue to engage in activities with them because they’d been made aware that she was ”potentially unstable” and had been taking psych meds. The letter-writer had the nerve to ask that my relative contact them to let them know if she was still taking these so they could decide whether or not to continue socializing with her or not.

    Craziness of my relative’s friends & life notwithstanding, it’s certain that the source about my relative’s medical history came from her MD-friend….my questions are 1) has a legal violation occurred or only an ethical one and 2) what action/s (if any) can my relative take to get the letter-writer to own up as to who exactly told her about the psych treatment and meds, so she can therefore pursue a case? Does she have any rights to get her to admit her source -?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Toledo, OH
    Posts
    15,893

    Default Re: Md/Friend Giving Out Medical Details

    1) has a legal violation occurred or only an ethical one
    It seems to me that the only violation here is MD friend "stepping in" where there was no formal doctor/patient relationship.

    2) what action/s (if any) can my relative take to get the letter-writer to own up as to who exactly told her about the psych treatment and meds, so she can therefore pursue a case?
    A case for...what, precisely? Defamation is right out, since your relative IS taking meds and receiving treatment.

    Does she have any rights to get her to admit her source -?
    None whatsoever.

    Your relative needs a better class of friends. The ones who sent her the letter are not friends at all.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I play a researcher on the internet!
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
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    25,830

    Default Re: Md/Friend Giving Out Medical Details

    I disagree, at least partially. There was a doctor patient relationship established. If not, then the doctor has broken the law by writing scripts for a person that was not a patient. Due to that, there is a HIPAA requirement to not disclose medical info of a patient without authorization. The hurdle I see is that your relative has no proof that the MD friend is who disclosed the information. It could have been a pharmacist (which would also have been a HIPAA violation) or simply somebody your relative knows that is aware of the med use.
    I am not an attorney and any advice is not to be construed as legal advice. You might even want to ignore my advice. Actually, there are plenty of real attorneys that you might want to ignore as well.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
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    Toledo, OH
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    Default Re: Md/Friend Giving Out Medical Details

    If not, then the doctor has broken the law by writing scripts for a person that was not a patient.
    This is what I'm rather inclined to believe, based on the wording of the original post. "Informal consults" and such imply - to me, anyway - that this was in the vein of "favor for a friend", rather than an actual doctor/patient relationship.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I play a researcher on the internet!
    Caution: I bite. WARNING: Do not send questions or complaints by PM. I'm likely to post them publicly and embarrass you half to death.
    I'm training for the MS Society's Bike to the Bay - and blogging about it!

  5. #5
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    Jan 2006
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    25,830

    Default Re: Md/Friend Giving Out Medical Details

    Quote Quoting LawResearcherMissy
    View Post
    This is what I'm rather inclined to believe, based on the wording of the original post. "Informal consults" and such imply - to me, anyway - that this was in the vein of "favor for a friend", rather than an actual doctor/patient relationship.
    but the fact there were scripts written, the doctor, in an effort to not lose their license, will almost assuredly state there was a doctor/patient relationship which means that more than likely HIPAA will apply. Of course, since the OP does not know the information actually came from this doctor friend and has no way to prove it, there really is nothing that can be done. Even if OP filed a HIPAA complaint, all the doctor has to do is deny giving out the info. Unless there is somebody stating the doctor did tell them covered private information, that is the end of the investigation.
    I am not an attorney and any advice is not to be construed as legal advice. You might even want to ignore my advice. Actually, there are plenty of real attorneys that you might want to ignore as well.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Posts
    4

    Default Re: Md/Friend Giving Out Medical Details

    Thanks for your responses, JK adn LRM much appreciated.....I used to work in healthcare (administrative, non-clinical role) so am familiar with HIPAA but hesitated to spell it out in my original post

    There is no other source for my relative's med information other than her MD-friend - the letter-writer mentioned above lives 800 miles away and has no knowledge of said relative's other friends/family, pharmacy usage, medical care, etc. The only link is the MD-friend, who has had known contact with the letter-writer in the past in certain settings.

    God only knows I've told my relative many times to straighten out her social life, but stuff happens. She's a good person and I hate to see her abused. No one should have their private medical info, esp. psychiatric info, divulged by a trusted friend *or* MD and then be maligned with it.

    My remaining question is, since there's no covered entity other than the MD-friend (who was in private practice and is now retired so I wonder if it's all moot), how a HIPAA complaint would be brought about?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
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    25,830

    Default Re: Md/Friend Giving Out Medical Details

    you file with these folks:
    I am not an attorney and any advice is not to be construed as legal advice. You might even want to ignore my advice. Actually, there are plenty of real attorneys that you might want to ignore as well.

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