By DR. WILLIAM MARCRUM
Medical doctors tend to be highly respected – similar in ways to firefighters, police officers, and soldiers. Yet, just like the latter occupations, the field of medicine is dealt a black eye whenever individual practitioners violate bonds of trust or otherwise break rules governing their profession.
I have been practicing in the state of Indiana as a family physician for 33 years, and I can assure you that breaking patient confidentiality is one of the fastest ways for a physician to lose patients and tarnish their reputation among peers and their community in general.
Physicians are trusted with details of patients’ lives that are never to be divulged. Patient confidentiality is what makes medicine work. When patients feel they cannot count on their medical history to be held in confidence, doctors cannot do their jobs properly. Honest answers are the only way to come up with a reasonable treatment plan.
Even when I vehemently disagree with a patient’s decisions, it is not my place to involve other people to try to change their mind. This is why doctors often refuse to even acknowledge that someone is a patient in a social setting. This would inevitably raise questions that make patients uncomfortable and untrusting of the medical profession as a whole.
Discussing patients’ stories in a public situation is simply not done by physicians with scruples or morals.
This is why I side with Attorney General Todd Rokita in the investigation of Dr. Caitlin Bernard, as it is his duty to investigate claims of physician misconduct. I know this is a stance that may raise eyebrows among the medical community, as this case has generated outsized media attention and garnered headlines even in international news outlets. But, let’s look at the facts.
The case itself is about two things – and two things only.
First, this case is about patient privacy, which is critical for our medical systems.
How many Hoosiers and Americans know a doctor chose to reveal the personal medical information of a minor and did so at a political rally?
When the ramifications of her choice to break patient confidentiality of the trauma inflicted on a minor were investigated, she claimed that a reporter merely overheard her private conversation at a political rally.
This was an egregious violation of patient privacy and of an innocent 10-year-old girl’s rights. It is especially repugnant to use a child facing a traumatic experience as a political pawn for the purpose of advancing an ideological view.
Attorney General Rokita’s Office’s legal duty is to enforce patient privacy rules – not just in one case but any time it occurs.
Historically, medical professionals pledge to “first, do no harm.” The potential harms of violating patient-privacy rules are significant.
Second, this doctor failed to properly notify appropriate authorities so a young rape victim would not be returned to the location near her predator.
It is now clear, the only people who had a chance to prevent this little girl from going back to Ohio – and to the perpetrator of the awful crimes against her – were Indiana authorities.
That did not happen in this case – because allegedly, the doctor failed to properly report her knowledge of the crime to Indiana officials. As a result, the little girl was sent home to the area near her perpetrator.
I sincerely hope the Medical Licensing Board acknowledges these obvious realities and that they take measures to ensure medical professionals keep the trust of their patients.
Second, that they recognize the danger this victim was placed into when she returned to Ohio.
The attorney general, in my opinion, is doing his job in fighting for Hoosiers affected by all these situations.
To my fellow Hoosiers, I encourage you to look at the true facts of this case, as it is based on justice and truth.
It’s the Indiana way.
William Marcrum, MD, FAAFP is a physician from Tell City, Ind.
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