Doctors, their assistants and other health professionals are obliged to protect the privacy of the patients. This refers to all information they learn about a person while practicing their profession.
The purpose of the doctor’s duty of confidentiality is that the patient can confide in the doctor without fear of the doctor telling his secrets. The doctor is needs all information in order to be able to provide good treatment. The duty of confidentiality protects the trust between patient and doctor.
The doctor is obliged to maintain confidentiality towards third parties, such as relatives, the patient’s employer and other doctors.
The legislator has provided for a prison sentence of up to two years or a fine for breaching the duty of confidentiality. The amount of the penalty depends on the motive. The aggrieved patient must file a motion to have a criminal prosecution initiated. He can claim compensation from the doctor if he loses his job, his home or his spouse.
The law governing the medical profession also provides for a warning, reprimand and the imposition of a fine of up to 50,000 euros in the event of a breach of the Code of Professional Conduct.
Everything the patient entrusts to the doctor is covered by the duty of confidentiality, starting with the patient’s name, profession and economic and financial situation and extending to findings, diagnoses and therapies. The fact that the patient visits a doctor at all is already a doctor’s secret.
Confidentiality does not become statute-barred, it is valid for life and extends beyond death.
Minors also have a right to confidentiality, as long as this does not overlap with the personal care of their parents.
Even if insurance companies claim to have a consent of the policyholder that releases the doctor from the obligation of confidentiality, this does not have to be true or may be legally invalid. The doctor should obtain the patient’s own consent to be sure.
Everyone has the right to informational self-determination and may decide on the disclosure and use of personal data.
The patient can release the doctor from his duty of confidentiality:
- by express consent
- through coherent behaviour, by inviting relatives to treatment.
Other situations for exemption from confidentiality:
- Presumed consent means that the patient is unconscious or dead and the release is in his or her best interest.
- If doctors treat the same patient at the same time or one after the other, they are not bound to secrecy.
- Investigations ordered by the court are free from the obligation of secrecy.
- The disclosure requirement is a further lifting of the confidentiality requirement. This occurs, for example, in the case of certain infectious diseases or if a doctor has to provide certain information to the health insurance company.
The following persons are covered by the duty of confidentiality:
Doctors and members of the medical professions such as doctor’s assistants, nurses, trainee nurses, nurse practitioners, medical assistants, medical technical assistants, medical student trainees, midwives, pharmacists, psychotherapists, masseurs, etc.
If a practice is transferred to another doctor, the doctor must keep the patient’s data under lock and key until the patients give their consent. Only then is the successor allowed to view the patient data.
Doctors may refuse to give evidence in court if it is covered by the duty of confidentiality. The seizure of medical records is also prohibited and is only allowed in connection with particularly serious crimes. There are also a number of exceptions where a doctor may break confidentiality, but this has to be weighed up against what is more serious. If a patient has a serious infectious disease, the doctor may inform the family members.
We advise and represent patients as well as doctors and health professionals in all matters concerning confidentiality.