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A Better Partnership
March 13, 2013

COA holds that statutory physician-patient privilege can be raised by a party to defeat the subpoena of nonparties' medical information from Michigan Department of Community Health

In Meier v. Awaad et. al., plaintiffs issued a subpoena to the Michigan Department of Community Health ("MDCH") seeking the identities of Medicaid beneficiaries who were diagnosed by the defendant physician as having either epliepsy or a seizure disorder. Plaintiffs sought this information in connection with their class action claim that this doctor had intentionally misdiagnosed them, and others, with these conditions for his own financial gain. In ruling on this subpoena, the Court of Appeals considered Michigan's statutory physician-patient privilege and held: (1) that the defendants (the physician and related entities) were entitled to raise the privilege issue; and (2) that even though the information was not sought from a physician, the privilege still protects the information from disclosure.

In addressing the "standing" issue, the Court determined that, even though no specific patient invoked the privilege or challenged the disclosure in court, the nature of the particular privilege is that it exists until it is waived by the patient, and here no such waivers exist. Thus, because the materials are privileged, they are non-discoverable under the relevant Rules of Civil Procedure, and defendants were entitled to raised the issues. Additionally, the Court of Appeals noted that the statutory language referred to "disclosure by a person duly authorized to practice medicine or surgery" and that MDCH may not fall with the precise scope of that language. However, the Court cited prior precedent from the Michigan Supreme Court that indicated that the privilege extended to disclosures sought from third parties, like hospitals. Thus, the Court followed that precedent and held that the privilege extended to disclosures sought from MDCH.

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