Washington Supreme Court Case Looks at Physician-Patient Confidentiality 

AMA Wire

A case to be heard by the Washington Supreme Court will examine the integrity of the patient-physician relationship.

In Volk v. DeMeerleer, a treating psychiatrist was charged with liability for his patient's homicidal actions in 2010. A lower court decided that the psychiatrist could not have identified the actual victims as targets because the patient had communicated no threats against them during his treatment.

An appeals court then examined the duty of a mental health professional to protect a third party when an outpatient occasionally expresses homicidal ideas without identifying the ultimate target. The majority reversed the trial court and ruled that mental health professionals who treat voluntary outpatients may owe a duty to protect "all foreseeable victims, not only those reasonably identifiable victims who were actually threatened by the patient."

The American Medical Association and state medical societies joined other healthcare associations in an amicus brief opposing the court of appeals decision. "Therapy is not effective if patients stay away or do not open up when they do seek treatment," the brief said.