Football Controversy Opens Question Whether Personal Medical Records Be Made Freely Available? – Drugs, Sports Media, Privacy & Medicine

LAWFUEL – The Law Newswire – The recent controversy surrounding the release of football player’s medical records has raised strong public debate on whether or not personal medical records should be made freely available. This debate has highlighted the seemingly double-edged sword for the medical community based on morals and ethics according to the Australian College of Legal Medicine.

Prof. Roy Beran, President of the Australian College of Legal Medicine (ACLM), believes that from the “medico- legal” perspective, confidentiality of medical records is vital to the proper respect of the doctor-patient relationship.

If a patient cannot rely on the privacy of the consultation then what follows is that important information may be withheld from doctors in the future.

“In the recent case concerning drugs in the AFL, the doctors involved respected the players’ privacy and reports indicate that 2 people have been charged with stealing medical records.
In this case the only legal-medical ramifications for the doctors would revolve around the security of the medical records,” said Prof Roy Beran.

“However the AFL/Seven situation, along with recent former NRL player revelations has raised the question as to whether or not it is appropriate to reveal patient records.

“It goes without saying that in the majority of situations, the doctors can, and must, respect a patient’s right to have medical information kept private and confidential,” says Prof Roy Beran.

“In rare situations, principles of discretion may apply, if situations were to arise which may have definite public health or community ramifications. If the doctor is convinced that the ‘duty of privacy” is to the patient then this may raise a moral dilemma for the doctors, which they need to consider.”

The ACLM considers that moral dilemma can apply to the issues of ‘drugs in sport’ as seriously as it does to the implications of epilepsy and driving and to problems with transmitted diseases. In regards to ‘drugs in sport’, there is no compulsion to report and privacy is basically the patient’s right – reporting the sportsperson may place the doctor at risk of litigation.

For epilepsy and driving, the doctor is protected (indemnified) from reporting to the licensing authorities, if doing so in good faith. For many ‘infectious diseases’ the doctor is legally obliged to report the patient as a being infected with a notifiable disease.

Further to the debate of doctor– patient privacy, in the majority of circumstances, the popular press and the media have a responsibility to respect the patient’s right to medical privacy, especially if the information is illegally obtained.

“No one has the right to endorse or foster the theft of private medical records or even worse to make their content public,” says Beran.

“How the involved parties choose to conduct themselves is up to the individual bodies. From a legal and moral perspective it has to be noted that the media group found themselves in possession of stolen goods, although it may not originally have been aware of the circumstances.

“Regarding the sporting organisations, if the bodies continue in the fashion of attempting to protect those who test positive to drugs, many may perceive that as a clear statement that it, effectively, is defending the use of drugs in sport.

“At the end of the day, regardless of how the medical records came into the possession of the media there is clear evidence of drug taking by professional athletes, which cannot and should not be condoned, said Beran.

The Australian College of Legal Medicine was established in November 1995 and provides a network for doctors and dentists who have completed dual qualifications in law, and medicine or dentistry, or those areas of practice which impact, or are impacted on by, the law (such as forensic medicine), and who have consequently elected to undertake internal College or external training to gain an understanding of the law as it applies to their practices and the community as a whole.

The aim is to provide the medical profession, and the community, with a better understanding of the legal implications involved in the practice of medicine, as well as to provide unique medical and legal insight into many medical issues not available to non-dually qualified doctors or lawyers.

The term Legal Medicine represents four broad areas of medical practice; encapsulating the fields of Civil legal medicine, Criminal or Forensic legal medicine, Medical Ethics, and medical practice areas affected by statute law, such as the Health Insurance Act, Trade Practices Act, etc’

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FFI contact Anna Wallin of H2O Communications on 0408 832 999

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