The Law Offices of SJ Spero and Associates - Boston Professional Misconduct Lawyer

The Law Offices of
SJ Spero & Associates

Newton Office
PO Box 240
Newton, MA 02468
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Concord Office
30 Monument Square
Suite 145
Concord, MA 01742
Phone: 617-491-1200
Fax: 978-631-0795
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Boston Office
175 Federal Street
Suite 1425
Boston, MA 02110
Phone: 617-491-1200
Fax: 978-631-0795
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Psychiatric Malpractice and Privacy Expectations

If your psychotherapist publishes as article in which you recognize details of your history or treatment, this may be a breach of his fiduciary duty. Such patient exploitation is actionable in a court of law.

"Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret" (Hippocratic Oath quoted in Hague v. Williams, 37 N.J. 328, 332 [1962]. In medical ethics, confidentiality is the rule and disclosure is the exception. Hellman v. Board of Registration in Medicine, 404 Mass. 800, n.4 (1989).

A patient has a valid interest in preserving the confidentiality of personal medical facts relayed to a physician. Bratt v. Internaltional Business Mach. Corp., 392 Mass. 508, 522 (1984). Physicians, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health clinicians, share a duty not to disclose medical information except to meet a serious danger to the patient or others. See, e.g., Alberts v. Devine, 395 Mass. 59, 68 (1985).

In Clinical Handbook of Psychiatry and the Law 2nd ed. (1991), the authors state:

Patients' privacy can be infringed by publication of data that are not sufficiently disguised to render them anonymous...As the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry noted, 'Sometimes material may be so impossible to camouflage that it should not be published at all, in spite of its scientific value. Such ethical requirements take priority over research objectives.'

In Clinical Psychiatry and the Law (1987) at 156, note 57, Dr. Robert Simon observed:

Psychiatrists, unlike nonpsychiatric physicians, are obliged to disguise their clinical data, even to the detriment of the scientific value of the data in order to avoid recognition of the patient...Without the patient being adequately disguised, consent of the patient is required for publication. If the psychiatrist does not obtain the patient's consent, he or she may be subject to legal liability and ethical charges if the subject of the writing is recognized. [C]linical and other materials used in teaching and in writing must be adequately disguised in order to preserve the anonymity of the individuals involved.

.... The disguise should be sufficient so that even a close friend cannot recognize the patient's true identity. Id. At 157

In Psychiatric Malpractice: Cases and Comments of Clinicians (1992), the authors note at 67:

...[A]ny discussion or disclosure of patient information, without proper consent, that permits the patient to be identified by name, description, or appearance may result in a successful action for invasion of privacy. This is true even if information that is published for scientific or professional purposes, as opposed to commercial purposes...It is sound clinical and ethical practice for a psychiatrist to go beyond simply obtaining a patient's consent. The psychiatrist should also make every attempt to sufficiently alter those details that will safeguard the identity and integrity of the patient without sacrificing the scientific purpose of the publication...Verbal disclosures can be just as damaging and actionable as those in writing.

A breach of confidentiality may cause severe psychological damage and materially aggravate a preexisting psychiatric condition. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can also result. Patients whose privacy has been invaded may experience suicidal ideation, severe depression, embarrassment, anxiety, humiliation, rage and shame.

The Law Offices of SJ Spero & Associates represented victims of professional misconduct and clergy abuse across the country, including Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas and New York. Based in Boston, our local service areas include Newton, Concord, Acton, Lowell, Cambridge, Quincy, Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield, Middlesex County, Essex County, Suffolk County, Norfolk County and Worcester County.