Apparently, an overwhelming number of patients who visit this teaching hospital’s doctors want to be told what to do and how to feel. I am the exact opposite; I take personal responsibility for and manage my own health, which is strongly advocated under health care reform. Having a more equal, collaborative relationship with my PCP works for me, and that seems to be the true reason for the administrator’s interference. Studies show that medical malpractice rates drop with a non-paternalistic model of health care services. That fact of reducing litigation risks is pushing more health care systems across the country to migrate to a non-paternalistic model. jitendra swarup md
The first question to address is whether, based on this fact pattern, a doctor-patient relationship was formed. When I gave the Internal Medicine resident doctor confidential information on two off-label drugs that I take, that act would be analogous to a prospective client approaching a lawyer with facts about his case to see if the lawyer will assist him. Contacting a lawyer this way does not create an attorney-client relationship. However, the lawyer is under an ethical duty to protect the confidentiality of the information shared by the prospective client. Similarly, the resident doctor was under an ethical duty to keep the information I shared with him confidential.
When a lawyer responds to a prospective client, “I agree to take your case,” or “I will be your lawyer,” or words to that effect, then an attorney-client relationship is created, and the protection afforded to the client’s information rises to the level of constitutionally protected attorney-client privilege. In this case, when the resident doctor responded that he would be honored to be my PCP, we have offer and acceptance forming a contract. The offer-acceptance could be construed as my offering to be his patient, which he accepted, or his offer to be my PCP, which I accepted.
But offer and acceptance are only two of the three required elements to form a contract. The third essential element is exchange of consideration, expressed in Latin as the quid pro quo. In this case, there were several separate exchanges of consideration that complete the formation of a contract and thereby render it enforceable in a court of law. Consideration is defined as some act or some transfer of an item from one party to the other, for which the receiving party had no legal right to otherwise obtain that consideration. There is no requirement that the consideration have intrisinc value. For example, the transfer of a scrap piece of paper can constitute valid consideration that renders a contract binding and enforceable.
The initial disclosure of confidential information from my health history amounts to sufficient consideration. Second, the fact that both I and the doctor each began pursuing scheduling an appointment for me to see him is also consideration: neither of us had a prior legal right entitling us to that action by the other person. Third, when we continued to correspond after offer and acceptance, with additional information being shared back and forth, further consideration was exchanged. My sending the resident doctor a copy of one of my professional presentations was a fourth example of consideration. Finally, my request that my medical records be transferred to the resident doctor’s clinic constituted an obvious legal detriment based on reliance rendering the contract enforceable.If a lawsuit were filed for enforcement of this contract, I am confident that the plaintiff would overcome any attempt to dismiss the lawsuit by the teaching hospital’s attorneys based on the absence of a contract. Defendant might attempt to argue that no contract could be formed