Patient confidentiality: winning the unwinnable [Case Study]

Posted by dashboard at May 18, 2020 2:39 pm Blog
Patient confidentiality: winning the unwinnable [Case Study]

Which should win out in medical information: patient confidentiality or a subpoena?

This is the conundrum that Dr M was faced with. After treating a patient for years as their general practitioner, Dr M was served with documentation from an Australian law firm that demanded she produce her patient’s medical records for use in court.

Fearing a breach of patient confidentiality were she to comply or a breach of the law if she didn’t, Dr M found herself in a seemingly unwinnable situation.

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Dr M put together a draft response disclosing documents she believed to be within the scope of the subpoena. In addition to concerns regarding patient confidentiality, Dr M was unsure if she was obliged to comply with orders of Australian courts.

Prior to sending the requested information to the court, Dr M put her patient and ethical obligations first, and reached out to the advisors at New Zealand Medical Professionals Insurance (NZMPI) to clarify whether or not she had to comply with this request.


The intervention

With time being of the essence, Dr M called NZMPI directly. She was referred to medico-legal experts to explain the situation—noting the urgency in light of the deadline imposed by the court. She was provided with the clarification she needed over the phone and by email. As it turned out, Dr M did have a legal obligation to comply with the subpoena.

Dr M’s response to the court was reviewed by NZMPI’s medico-legal experts to ensure that it only disclosed information that was within the scope of the subpoena.



Rather than having to study the law and risk failing to comply with an order of the court, Dr M was able to resolve her concerns regarding patient confidentiality and protect her practice through the help of NZMPI, who resolved the query in less than 24 hours.

As a result, Dr M was able to confidently comply with the order of the court, without breaching patient confidentiality or putting herself at legal risk.


Situations like this are why it pays to ensure that your medical indemnity insurance cover includes access to medico-legal support. If you’d like to learn more about these benefits, and others, get in touch with one of the experts at NZMPI today.

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