Confidentiality of communications between patients and their doctors and therapists
The doctor-patient privilege allows patients to discuss their physical and mental health concerns with their doctor or therapist without fear of the information being made public.
Our Las Vegas criminal lawyers understand the doctor-patient privilege. We will make sure you and your doctor don’t inadvertently waive it if you are charged with a crime. And we will fight to make sure the prosecution can’t get hold of your private physical and mental health records.
To help you better understand Nevada’s physician-patient and therapist-patient privileges, our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers explain the following, below:
- 1. The doctor-patient privilege in Nevada
- 2. Therapists, social workers and counselors
- 3. What is a “confidential” communication?
- 4. Exceptions to doctor-patient privilege
1. The doctor-patient privilege in Nevada
In Nevada, the doctor-patient privilege is set forth in NRS 49.225, which provides:
A patient has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications among the patient, the patient’s doctor or persons who are participating in the diagnosis or treatment under the direction of the doctor, including members of the patient’s family.
“Doctor” means a person licensed to practice medicine, dentistry or osteopathic medicine in any state or nation, or a person who is reasonably believed by the patient to be so licensed, and in addition includes a person employed by a public or private agency as a psychiatric social worker, or someone under his or her guidance, direction or control, while engaged in the examination, diagnosis or treatment of a patient for a mental condition.1
2. Therapists, social workers and counselors
Privileges similar to the doctor-patient privilege apply to confidential communications made to and from:
- Marriage and family therapists,3
- Clinical professional counselors,4
- Social workers,5
- Victims’ advocates,6
- School counselors,7 and
- School teachers (to the extent the confidential communications concern the pupil’s possession or use of drugs or alcoholic beverages made while the teacher was counseling or attempting to counsel the pupil).8
3. What is a “confidential” communication?
A communication is “confidential” if it is not intended to be disclosed to third persons other than:
- Those present to further the interest of the patient in the consultation, examination or interview;
- Persons reasonably necessary for the transmission of the communication; or
- Persons who are participating in the diagnosis and treatment under the direction of the doctor, including members of the patient’s family.9
A privileged communication can only be disclosed with the patient’s consent. This means that even in a criminal case, no one can compel you or your doctor to testify regarding your medical condition, unless:
- You have raised it as an affirmative defense (such as pleading not guilty by reason of insanity), or
- It falls within one of the rare exceptions to the law (and then only to the extent reasonably necessary for the purpose of the disclosure).
4. Exceptions to doctor-patient privilege
Doctor-patient and similar privileges do not apply to all communications made under every circumstance. The privilege does not fully protect you in the following situations:
- Proceedings to hospitalize someone for mental illness (if the doctor in the course of diagnosis or treatment has determined that the patient is in need of hospitalization);
- When the provider in his or her professional or occupational capacity, knows or has reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected;
- When a medical professional, in his or her professional or occupational capacity, knows or has reasonable cause to believe that a newborn infant has been affected by prenatal illegal substance abuse or has withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure;
- Communications to determine whether a mentally ill person is in unlawful possession of a firearm;
- Communications made in the course of a court-ordered examination of the condition of a patient;
- Written medical or hospital records relevant to an issue of the condition of the patient in any proceeding in which the condition is an element of a claim or defense;
- Visits to a physician to unlawfully to procure a dangerous drug or controlled substance, or unlawfully to procure the administration of any such drug or substance;
- Communications made to a physician if his or her services were sought or obtained to enable or aid a person to commit or plan to commit fraud or any other unlawful act (if the person knows or reasonably should know the act is fraudulent or otherwise unlawful);
- When a doctor believes a patient cannot safely drive because of epilepsy; and
- In certain legal proceedings relating to infectious diseases, toxic agents, insurance investigations and civil lawsuits.10
Charged with a crime? Call us for help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime in Nevada, we invite you to contact us for a consultation.
- NRS 49.215 (2).
- NRS 49.209.
- NRS 49.247.
- NRS 49.2504.
- NRS 49.252.
- NRS 49.2547.
- NRS 49.290.
- NRS 49.291.
- NRS 49.215 (1).
- NRS 49.245.