Medical records aren't political toys

Photo by Alex Gorzen

There's a very good reason why so many Texans reacted with outrage at the public release of the medical records of a candidate in the race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. That reason is trust.

Health care is based on trust between patients and their physicians. Patients trust that their doctors will do all they can to make them well again. Physicians trust that their patients will share all pertinent information about their health so they can make informed diagnoses and prescribe the best treatment.

And patients trust that their doctors will keep their confidence. This trusting relationship is so important that it's enshrined in American physicians' Principles of Medical Ethics: "A physician shall respect the rights of patients, colleagues and of other health professionals, and shall safeguard patient confidences and privacy within the constraints of the law."

A patient's medical record is a window into the sacred patient-physician relationship. It documents what the patient said, in trust that it will be kept confidential. Only doctors, other health care professionals, and patients and their families — and, unfortunately, those who pay for care — have the legal and ethical right to look through that window.

As much as any of us might be interested in the health care travails of entertainers, politicians or business moguls, their right to privacy trumps our voyeuristic desire. It’s also the law. If I intentionally disclosed one of my patient’s medical records, I could face a fine of up to $250,000 and a 10-year prison sentence.

While the candidate’s own release of his records as part of a lawsuit decades ago changes the legal issues involved in this particular case, it doesn’t change the moral issue.

There's no question that Texas politics is a contact sport. But releasing a candidate's personal medical records is out of bounds.

Disclosure: The Texas Medical Association is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Austin King

President of the Texas Medical Association