Disclosure of a Fellow-Patient’s Identity

Kneisel v QPH, Inc.,

___ AD3d ___, ___ NYS2d ___, 2015 NY Slip Op 00503 [2nd Dept., 2015]
The issue here was whether medical privilege blocked the disclosure of the name and address of the plaintiff’s decedent’s fellow patient, who might have witnessed the acts of malpractice and negligence alleged against the defendant hospital.
As a general matter, if disclosure of their names and addresses of fellow patients will not carry with it any information which would also disclose their diagnosis and treatment, the privilege is not violated. So, in Rabinowitz v St. John’s Episcopal Hosp., 24 AD3d 530, the alleged negligence occurred in an emergency room. Plaintiff’s decedent fell from a gurney, leading to his death. Plaintiff sought disclosure of the names and addresses of patients in the treatment area, so as to ascertain whether there were any witnesses to the fall. The court held that disclosure of the names and addresses of non-party patients who may have been eyewitnesses does not violate the doctor-patient privileges of the non-party patients, provided that the demanding party does not seek to identify patients by the treatment they received and provided that the location in the hospital does not itself reveal the non–party’s medical status. Since an emergency room provides a broad range of services, disclosure in Rabinowitz did not violate the privilege.
In Kneisel, by contrast, both the plaintiff’s decedent and the fellow-patient were residents of Holliswood Hospital, in a unit for children from 12 to 15 years of age suffering from specific psychiatric disorders. Disclosure of the roommate’s presence in that unit would necessarily have revealed her medical status, and so disclosure was prohibited by the medical privilege.

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