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Uruguayan Medical Journal

ISSN: 1688-0390

Vol.28 - Nº 2 - Jul. 2012

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Inviolability of the health care institution: protecting the patient’s privacy and history

Rev Med Urug 2012; 28: 127-140
Full text (spanish) |  Full text (spanish) (New windows, pdf) | Abstract


Introduction: this article aims to determine the legal status of the health care institution, considering it is the physical location where the private clinical data belonging to patients is kept in custody, which data is covered by the medical professional secrecy. In particular, all data included in the medical records are included in documents that are protected by the medical professional secrecy, and thus cannot be seized by the criminal law with the purpose of prosecuting the owners of said medical records. On these grounds, the health care institution shall be considered an inviolable "special domicile".

Objective: we aim to demonstrate that what enables sensitive and confidential information to be kept in the health care institution is the fact that leads to its having a privileged status of inviolability. The method used for such demonstration is strictly logical and is based on a syllogism. First, we need to demonstrate medical records are included in the medical professional secrecy.

Next, we need to analyse whether the medical professional secrecy is inviolable and opposable to any judicial order.

Now, since the health care institution is the physical location where the inviolable documents (medical records) would be kept in custody, no judicial authority may order the search warrant of a health care institution with the purpose of seizing medical records when the patients are under investigation, unless they have especially authorized the judicial power to have access to their record.

Conclusions: the abovementioned analysis leads to the following conclusions: a) themedical professional secrecy may not be relieved by any judicial authority without the prior and explicit consent by the patient; b)medical records are covered by the medical professional secrecy and coercive access to it implies its mere violation; c) the medical institutions, as physical locations where the medical records and private data are kept in custody enjoy a privileged status named "special domicile", that is similar to the lawyer's office and may not be subject to search warrants with the purpose of finding evidence against patients who are members of the institution.