physician-patient privilege

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Physician-patient privilege–also called doctor-patient privilege–is a protection that ensures the privacy and confidentiality of communications between a medical professional and their patient. The purpose behind this privileged relationship is to allow for full disclosure between patients and physicians without fear of later facing legal repercussion. This protection applies only to legal proceedings; it prevents medical professionals from testifying as to a patient’s medical information unless the patient waives this privilege. However, information shared between a patient to their physician that is not related to their direct medical care may not be privileged.

Either a patient or a physician may assert physician-patient privilege in the lawsuit. However, this privilege is one born of state statutes and is excluded from the Federal Rules of Evidence. As such, the rules governing physician-patient privilege may vary from state to state.

Physician-patient privilege differs from doctor-patient confidentiality, which protects a patient’s medical records and information outside of the context of a lawsuit. This protection is granted by state statutes and federal statutes, such as the HIPAA Privacy Act.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]