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Doctor's Duty to Disclose

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What is a Doctor's Duty to Disclose?

A doctor is required to disclose all relevant information regarding your medical treatment in order to allow you to make a decision about your own treatment.  If a doctor fails to disclose pertinent information, he may be liable for medical malpractice

What Information Does a Doctor Have to Disclose?

The doctor's duty to disclose includes:

  • What the treatment involves
  • The possible risks of receiving the treatment as well as the possible risks of not receiving it
  • The success rate of the operation
  • Alternative treatments

Does a Doctor Have to Disclose Every Possible Risk or Alternative Treatment?

Typically, a doctor is held to the standard of care of a "reasonable doctor".  Thus, a doctor need only disclose that which a "reasonable doctor" would disclose.  Although voodoo may be a form of alternative treatment, if a reasonable doctor would not tell a patient of that option, a doctor does not have a duty to disclose it. 

Can I Sue my Doctor for a Breach of His Duty to Disclose?

To bring a successful suit against a doctor, you must prove not only that he failed to disclose some pertinent information, but also that you suffered some injury as a consequence of that failure. 

  • If your doctor does not tell you of some serious risk of a surgery, but you undergo the procedure without complications, you cannot sue the doctor because you have not suffered any harm. 
  • If you undergo the surgery and suffer from a harm you were not informed of, you probably can sue, unless there is evidence that you would have gone through with the surgery even if you had known the risk.  If you would have gone through with the surgery even with the disclosure, you cannot claim that the doctor's failure to disclose caused your harm. 

Does A Doctor Have To Disclose That Malpractice Occurred?

Generally, it is often wise to disclose that malpractice occurred if malpractice did in fact occur. The failure to disclose medical malpractice is often treated as medical malpractice. If the patient was injured by a doctor, then the doctor has a duty to inform the patient about the condition such that the patient can make a decision to receive adequate care.

With that said, a doctor who wishes to avoid a costly lawsuit over the malpractice may wish to avoid using exact legal terms when disclosing the information to the patient. In other words, the doctor need not tell the patient that the doctor’s conduct was so far below the standard of care that a lawsuit against the doctor would be possible. The doctor does, however, have an obligation to inform the patient that a surgical procedure went astray. Such information can help the patient immensely.

If the Patient Asks Not To Know About Her Medical Status, Will the Doctor Be Liable if She Is Later Injured?

In the last few years, some patients have begun asking not to know about their conditions. These patients often feel they are not prepared to make the necessary choices such knowledge would force the patients to make. However, these conditions are often fatal and the patients would likely perish without treatment.

For doctors, this is a difficult dilemma. The doctors have the expertise and skills to treat the patient, yet the doctors cannot treat the patient without the patient’s consent. From a legal standpoint, though, it is possible to create a waiver removing all liable from the doctor if the patient wishes not to be informed of the medical condition which afflicts the patient.

Are There Circumstances Which Would Compel A Doctor To Disclose A Patient’s Medical Information To Parties Other Than the Patient?

Doctors sometimes have the obligation to disclose a patient’s medical information to third parties, despite the privileged communication between doctor and patient. These situations include, but are not limited to:

  • Heath Insurance
  • Criminal Liability
  • Lawsuits
  • Harmful Action on the part of the patient

Do I Need a Lawyer to Pursue a Medical Malpractice Suit against my Doctor?

A skilled medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate your case and, if necessary, represent you in court.   

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-03-2017 12:01 AM PDT

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