Theater Shootings Patient Confidentiality
A hearing Monday will focus on whether investigators should be able to look at a package theater shooter James Holmes sent his psychiatrist.
Some reports have said it included a notebook with his plans for the shootings in Aurora that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.
A far more interesting question is whether his psychiatrist had any idea of what he planned to do. If she did, should she have been obligated to inform authorities?
Doctors also are in the risk assessment business. Ignoring the potential for a lawsuit could be costly.
It is expected that doctors' assessments of patients will be based on reasonable science, rather than reporting someone without a real basis for violating confidentiality.
Only very narrow exceptions are allowed to laws guaranteeing confidentiality to doctor-patient relations. Child abuse and domestic violence allow exceptions to the confidentiality rule.
In other cases, the issue varies from state-to-state.
In this case, virtually nothing is known of the meetings between Dr. Lynne Fenton and shooter James Holmes. That includes how many times they met, and whether she had made a diagnosis.
In some cases, courts have held that a doctor would have an obligation to notify authorities only if a specific person were threatened.
In other cases, a threat to any third party would be enough to require notifying law enforcement if it appeared real.