Status of the Physician-Patient Privilege

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While in most states information physicians obtain from and about patients is confidential and cannot be disclosed without the patient's permission, a recent California Supreme Court decision affirms that when the doctor reasonably believes his patient can cause violent harm to third persons, he has an overriding duty to warn the third parties and appropriate authorities. Such possible violent harm may be direct, such as physical assault, or indirect, such as an automobile accident resulting from driving while taking certain drugs. The duty to break the privilege of confidentiality does not apply when the injury is likely to be self-inflicted or involve only property damage.

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