Lis and the Single Girl: Doctor-Patient Confidentiality

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Single and fabulous? Well then this is the column for you!

Ever wish you had your own personal Carrie Bradshaw to answer your questions — not just about what to do if your boyfriend dumps you via text message — but serious issues that confront us? This special daily edition of “Lis on Law” will address topics that single women are faced and that everybody wonders about — but no one has time to figure out.

Between work, working out, dating and maintaining a social life, it’s tough to find time to do much else. So, read up and prepare to be fully armed for brunch this weekend with your friends with some super conversation topics! Your pals will be amazed!

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I've heard of doctor-patient confidentiality, but how far does it go? Does it really protect me?

Single girls have a lot to talk with their doctors about. And we want to make sure that our private medical lives stay private.

Doctor-patient confidentiality originated from the Hippocratic Oath, the ethical promise made by doctors pertaining to the way they practice medicine. The traditional oath states, “I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.” The modern Hippocratic Oath also contains this clause: “That whatsoever you shall see or hear of the lives of men or women which is not fitting spoken, you will keep inviolably secret.” This is all well and good, but the Hippocratic Oath is an ethical promise, rather than a legal contract, so what's the real deal?

Most of us think of the landmark case of Roe v. Wade as the one that gave women the right to have an abortion, but what Roe v. Wade was really based on was the constitutional right to privacy and the special relationship between a doctor and patient. Most states now have statutes regulating the confidence a patient puts in her doctor — these are called 'disclosure laws.' For the disclosure laws to apply, a doctor-patient relationship must exist. So, if you're at a cocktail party, strike up a conversation with a doctor, and ask her about a weird mole you have on your arm, it's unlikely that confidentiality exists — you don't really have a doctor-patient relationship in that context. To be sure of confidence, see a doctor in an office under professional circumstances.

Even in the doctor's office, there are a few exceptions to the confidentiality rule. For example, most states require doctors to notify law enforcement if they believe a child is in danger, or if you have certain communicable diseases. This is called a duty to “warn and protect.” Two cases, Tarasoff I and Tarasoff II, brought the issue of a doctor's duty to warn and protect potential victims of crimes to the forefront. The first case involved a psychologist who believed his patient wanted to kill a specific person, and did. The California court found that if a doctor reasonably believes that someone, besides their patient, is in danger, they have to warn the identifiable victim. This rule was extended to say that a doctor has a duty to reasonably protect the potential victim.

Reasonable protection can range from admitting the potential wrongdoer to a psychiatric facility to contacting police. California then codified the cases' holdings into law. Although still controversial, as a rule of thumb, if a doctor believes that there is risk of safety to a specific person or the public, he/she has a duty to notify someone.

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• Modern Hippocratic Oath

• Medicinal Marijuana in Colorado

• Tarasoff I and II

• General information on doctor patient confidentiality

• Tarasoff Reconsidered

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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.