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Connecticut Supreme Court Recognizes Common-Law Duty of Confidentiality in Physician-Patient Relationship

Posted in Electronic Health Records, HIPAA and the HITECH Act, Legislation and Public Policy, Litigation, Privacy and Data Protection, State Matters

On January 16, the Connecticut Supreme Court released its ruling in Byrne v. Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, P.C., a case in which a patient sued her medical provider for sharing her medical records with a third party in response to a subpoena without her permission.The plaintiff had appealed from the trial court’s ruling in favor of the defendant on two counts – negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. On appeal for the second time, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment that granted summary judgment for the defendant after finding that the defendant owed the plaintiff no common-law duty of confidentiality. A previous Supreme Court decision in the case was discussed here.

The Supreme Court recognized a new cause of action for breach of the duty of confidentiality in the physician-patient relationship by the disclosure of medical information, so long as the disclosure is not otherwise permitted by law. The Court cited to case law in other jurisdictions including Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, as well as public policy.

The defendant medical practice had received a subpoena instructing the custodian of its records to appear and bring the plaintiff’s medical records to the local Children’s Probate Court. In its opinion, the Supreme Court stated that it recognizes that HIPAA regulations require that specific steps be taken before any disclosure of protected health information pursuant to a subpoena. The Supreme Court also noted that the defendant, in mailing plaintiff’s medical records to the probate court instead of having the appropriate person appear and bring the records, failed to comply with the terms of the subpoena.

The Supreme Court’s decision reinforces the need for healthcare providers in Connecticut (and elsewhere) to exercise caution when disclosing patients’ protected health information, even in response to a subpoena. Consulting with legal counsel before doing so is strongly recommended.

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