Irrespective of personal beliefs, physicians must comply with reporting laws. A
physician should never withhold information or give false information to protect
a patient’s privacy. Although violators are seldom prosecuted, interfering with
a public health investigation is a crime in most states. There is a much greater
chance that a failure to comply with a reporting duty will result in a medical
malpractice lawsuit. Failure to report an infectious person or a dangerous
condition can make the physician liable for any harm to the patient or anyone
else that compliance with the reporting duty would have prevented.
Legally required disease control reporting is not subject to informed consent;
the patient has no right to veto the reporting. The reportability of a disease
should not be part of the informed consent for laboratory tests. Information
about the reportability of a disease might deter some patients from consenting
to testing. Although this might protect the patient’s autonomy, it can threaten
the public’s health. Also, the physician does not need a medical records release
for disease reporting because neither the physician nor the patient has the
right to refuse the release of information.
Physicians must never knowingly report false information to public health
authorities. The physician is liable for any injuries occasioned by the false
report. This does not mean that the physician must personally investigate the
information that patients provide. It does mean that the physician must
truthfully report what is known to him or her. The reality is that very few
physicians do not know their patients’ correct names and addresses. It is the
rare patient who pays cash for medical care and never requires a prescription
or other order that requires correct identity.
A physician who provides information in good faith is not liable if the
information is incorrect. Conversely, a physician who intentionally provides
false information may be liable for negligence per se. This means that the
reporting statute establishes the proper standard of care and the physician is
liable as a matter of law. Depending on the nature of the state’s reporting
laws, a physician’s malpractice insurance may not cover damages due to
knowingly breaking the law. Most states allow the board of medical examiners
to restrict or revoke a physician’s license for failing to comply with reporting
Most state laws also require laboratories to report communicable diseases. The
physician reports the clinical diagnosis, and the laboratory reports the results of
tests that indicate the presence of a reportable disease. When the laboratory
reports a disease, this does not obviate the physician’s duty to report.
Physicians who run laboratories in their offices may have to file duplicate
reports if they perform the laboratory tests that establish the diagnosis.