EMAIL TO A FRIEND COMMENT

 

Psychiatrist-Patient Privilege Shields Patient’s Medical, Dental Records


A man submitted a request to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission (commission) for any records concerning a particular woman for the period of time from 1924 through 1962. The woman was a patient at a state hospital following her conviction for second degree murder for the arsenic poisoning of a resident of her nursing home. The commission provided the man with those records pertaining to the woman that it deemed were disclosable under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act (act) and notified him that the commission had withheld other records, deemed exempt from disclosure under the act.

 

The man filed a complaint with the commission alleging that the commission violated the act by failing to provide these records concerning the woman’s confinement. After a full hearing and an in camera inspection of the records before a hearing officer of the commission, the commission adopted the proposed findings and decision of the hearing officer. The hearing officer found that some of the records submitted for in camera review were exempt from disclosure as psychiatric records; two documents submitted for in camera inspection were exempt from disclosure due to attorney-client privilege; and the rest of the records submitted for in camera review did not qualify as psychiatric records or attorney client communications, but were on their face medical records. The commission found that the medical records were not exempt from disclosure under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), 42 U.S.C.A. § 1320d et seq. or the act because the woman was deceased and, therefore, there can be no invasion of privacy.

 

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (department) appealed the decision of the commission requiring the department to disclose 50- to 90-year-old documents in the woman’s file.

 

The Superior Court, Judicial District of New Britain, affirmed the commission’s decision in part. The trial court ordered two documents partially redacted as to diagnosis. The trial court sustained the department’s appeal as to the physical and dental examination records, finding that they were not a legitimate matter of public concern and would be highly offensive if disclosed. The trial court rejected the commission’s claim that the documents were medical records related to the diagnosis and treatment of a patient and were, thus, psychiatric records exempt from disclosure pursuant to Connecticut law. The Commission appealed and the Department cross appealed to the Appellate Court, and the appeals were transferred to the Supreme Court.

 

The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded with directions. The court held that the medical and dental records contained in the woman’s file were medical records related to the diagnosis and treatment of a patient and were, thus, psychiatric records exempt from disclosure pursuant to Connecticut’s statutory psychiatrist-patient privilege.

 

The medical and dental records contained in the woman’s file were medical records related to the diagnosis and treatment of a patient and were, thus, psychiatric records exempt from disclosure pursuant to Connecticut’s statutory psychiatrist-patient privilege. The records were not communications directly between the woman and a psychiatrist or between a member of her family and a psychiatrist. The court noted that communications that bear no relationship to the purpose for which the privilege in psychiatric communications was enacted do not obtain shelter under the privilege statute and are admissible subject to the normal rules of evidence. However, the court went on to explain that the protection of communications that identify a patient are central to the purpose of the statute. A patient’s identifying information is not of lesser importance within the statutory scheme of psychiatrist-patient privilege than other communications and records. Many of the records identified the patient and included her diagnosis. The medical and dental records at issue were created at the hospital during the woman’s inpatient treatment and under the direction of a psychiatrist. The court also noted that the legislature’s decision to require physical examinations of all patients at inpatient mental health facilities supported the court’s conclusion that these physical examinations and the resulting medical record are part of the patient’s mental health record and not subject to disclosure.

 

The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the trial court’s rejection of the Commission’s claim that the documents were medical records related to the diagnosis and treatment of a patient and were, thus, psychiatric records exempt from disclosure pursuant to Connecticut law.

 

See: Freedom of Information Officer v. Freedom of Information Com'n, 318 Conn. 769, 2015 WL 5331736 (Conn., September 22, 2015) (not designated for publication).

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, November 2012 Report: Liability for Electronic and Other Medical Record Information Disclosure 

 

 

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