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Doctor – Patient Privilege in Iowa Family Law Cases

Updated on
April 8, 2021
Article written by
Eugene Nassif

Iowa Code § 622.10 provides: “A practicing . . . counselor, physician, . . . [or] mental health professional, . . . who obtains information by reason of the person’s employment . . . shall not be allowed, in giving testimony, to disclose any confidential communication properly entrusted to the person in the person’s professional capacity.” 

For the most part, doctors and counselors can’t give out your records to anyone but you. The rationale here is that people need to be honest and upfront with these people. 

 

In this article, we cover doctor-patient privilege in Iowa family law cases. There is confidentiality between you and your doctor. We cover questions about this including: 

 

  • Under what circumstance can my doctor disclose information about me?
  • Can my doctor disclose medical records in an Iowa court case?
  • Is Doctor-Patience Privilege upheld in family law cases?

 

Under what circumstance can my doctor disclose information about me?

 

Having the protection that these conversations won’t get in the hands of others helps ensure this. These protections are based both on the constitutional right to privacy and Iowa statute. Should you want this protected information to be shared, you may give them permission through what’s often called “waiving” your privilege or signing a release so a third party can get your records.  

 

Can my doctor disclose medical records in an Iowa court case?

 

It’s also worth noting that this privilege doesn’t go away should you be involved in a civil court case. There are cases, such as custody or divorce, where the opposing party may ask you to hand over your medical or mental health records. This will come in the form of a “discovery request” or a “request for production of documents.” In most cases, you do not have to give the opposing party your records.  

The exception to this rule is if your medical or health condition plays an important rule in the underlying case. This might be referred to as the condition being an element, factor or issue in the case. This is known as the “patient-litigant” exception. What happens should the opposing party claim you are sick or mentally ill? Such claims alone don’t automatically remove doctor-patient privilege. Furthermore, you can deny the claim without giving up or waiving this privilege.  

 

Is Doctor-Patience Privilege upheld in family law cases?

 

The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed this protection in Ashenfelter v. Mulligan decided in 2010. In the case, grandparents were litigating to gain visitation rights with their granddaughter. The mother of the children did not want the children visiting the grandparents, citing it was not in the children's best interest. The grandparents claimed that the mother of the children was unfit to take care of the children and requested her medical and mental health records to prove it. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that these records were protected by the doctor-patient privilege and the mother did not have to provide the records to the grandparents.  

 

In addition to this allegation, the grandparents claimed the patient-litigant exception applied because the mother’s medical condition was a factor in the case. The court dismissed this argument, stating that it was a part of the grandparent’s case but was not an element or factor in the mother’s case. There was no rational or reason to make it a factor in the mother’s case and had not done so by denying she was sick. Because of this, the patient-litigant exception therefore did not apply.  

 

The doctor-patient privilege is an important right to privacy, especially important in family law matters. It helps make sure doctors and counselors have all the information they need to diagnose and treat people and keeps your private information from being made public. Your information will remain private unless the patient makes their health a part of their own case. 


Doctor – Patient Privilege in Iowa Family Law Cases
Author

Eugene Nassif

Eugene Nassif is an associate attorney in Des Moines, Iowa. His primary focus is in business and civil litigation matters.

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