Maryland board can’t punish doctor for defending privacy of patients

A Maryland appeals court handed a victory to a physician who stood up to the state medical board in defense of his patients’ privacy rights.

Judges unanimously found that Bethesda, Md., psychiatrist Harold I. Eist, MD, did nothing wrong when he refused to immediately turn over medical records for three of his patients to the Maryland Board of Physicians because the patients objected.

The agency charged Dr. Eist with failing to cooperate with an investigation into his conduct and levied a $5,000 fine against the doctor.

Dr. Eist said he was just honoring his patients’ wishes. If they knew their confidentiality could be compromised, “it would devastate the trust people have built up over the centuries in the doctor-patient relationship going back to the Hippocratic oath,” said Dr. Eist, a former American Psychiatric Assn. president.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed and said the board cannot ignore patients’ constitutional rights to medical privacy when investigating a third-party complaint.

{Finally the courts stopped the over-reaching Maryland board. The board asserted that its rights to investigate a complaint trumped patients’ rights to the privacy of their mental health records. These patients did not want the board investigating a complaint against their doctor filed by the estranged parent to see their records. The board simply refused to consider the patients’ rights. This decision means that licensing boards have to show good reason to override patients’ Constitutional rights to privacy before they can access records. Dr. Eist was fined and reprimanded by the Maryland licensing board when he appropriately tried to uphold his patients’ legal rights to withhold consent.}

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