The basic idea behind of doctor-patient confidentiality is that a person seeking medical advice or assistance should never be afraid to disclose his or her medical concerns or conditions out of fear that they would be disclosed to others. For obvious reasons, such a fear would make treatment of even the most minor conditions difficult. This confidentiality not only covers what a patient may disclose to a doctor, but also the conclusions that a doctor may come to while examining or treating a patient.
Confidentiality covers all medical reports and documents such as X-rays, lab reports, or notes taken during a routine examination, as well as any communication between the doctor and patient. Of course, this also extends to other medical personnel that the patient may speak to as well. A doctor must always act under the duty of confidentiality, even after he or she has stopped seeing or treating a patient.
Information about a patient’s medical history can never be given out without the patient’s consent. There are some very limited exceptions to this rule, such as disclosures to state health officials, but usually unauthorized disclosure of medical records is highly illegal and almost always grounds for legal action.
Confidentiality laws and guidelines of course extend to mental health as well. The relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient is in many ways no different from the relationship between a medical doctor and a patient. There are some instances in which confidentiality can be broken such as if a patient has threatened to harm another person, but these instances are relatively rare.