You’re an intern who has just started a night shift in a busy inner-city
hospital, when the police come in asking for information about a patient.
According to the police there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the
patient’s injuries. You are not the treating doctor, you have no prior
knowledge of the patient and there is no one else on duty who knows the
So what should
Medico-legal Advisory Service (MLAS) receives many calls from
young doctors seeking advice about how to respond to requests for information
to the police.
First and foremost, it’s important to remain helpful to the police, but
not to breach the patient’s privacy or hospital policies. Disclosing patient
information without the patient’s consent can land you in a lot of trouble. For
example, in a case in 2015, the Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner ordered a general
practitioner to apologise and pay $6,500 in compensation for breaching a
patient’s privacy and providing
information to the police.
It’s also important to understand that you do not have to provide
patient information to the police unless you have the patient’s
consent or the police have a warrant, subpoena or other legal
order requiring disclosure of the information. It’s okay for you to ask the
police to obtain the patient’s consent for the release of information.
Always refer to the hospital’s policy and consult your
supervisor before releasing confidential patient information to anyone. The medical records are owned by the hospital and
should not be accessed, unless for clinical treatment, without first speaking
to the relevant department in your hospital.
You will need to ask questions of the police to
understand the nature of their enquiry, and to consult the patient’s medical records to ensure accurate information
is provided if appropriate.
Any details of communication with police should be
documented in the patient’s medical records.
Medico-legal Advisory Service (MLAS) on 1800 128 268 for further advice.
also support ongoing education to meet the medical professionals’
compliance obligation with the Australian
Watch our video on ‘Preparing
a statement for the police’
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