Doctor Must Divulge History Regarding Hepatitis B To Patient Who Develops Hepatitis B After Surgery.

In a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision, the court ruled that a surgeon was required to answer questions regarding his health after his patient developed Hepatitis B following surgery. In Ward v. Summa Health System, et. al, the patient received a letter from the hospital advising the patient that he may have been exposed to Hepatitis B during his hospitalization. The patient tested positive for Hepatitis B. The patient filed a medical malpractice action against the hospital. During the discovery phase of the case, the patient took the oral deposition of his surgeon with the intention of asking him whether he had ever been diagnosed with Hepatitis B and when. The doctor (who was not a party to the lawsuit) refused to provide this information, claiming that this information was protected under the physician-patient privilege.

The trial court agreed with the doctor and did not allow the patient's attorney to get answers to this information. The court of appeals reversed and the case proceeded to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that this information was not protected by the physician-patient privilege. This privilege protects a patient by not allowing the patient's physician to disclose medical information. However, in this case, the person who was being asked to provide information was the patient. (Even thought the patient was also a doctor, this did not change the analysis.) If the information requested is relevant to the case, then the patient must provide that information.

One of the justices who agreed with the majority wrote a separate opinion to express additional thoughts. Justice Pfeifer wrote that he believed that the majority of the justices did not go far enough in their opinion. He wrote: "I write separately to emphasize that the failure of the tortfeasor, the hospital administrators, and their attorneys to tell the plaintiff who it was that exposed him to hepatitis is shameful."