Private Practice is a TV show spin-off of the popular medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The show follows the lives of doctors at Oceanside Health & Wellness Group in Los Angeles, CA. Charlotte King is the Chief of Staff at St. Ambrose Hospital which is adjacent to Oceanside Health & Wellness Group. The doctors face many ethical dilemmas associated with their patients, but Charlotte is forced to make many tough decisions on behalf of the hospital.
The most recent storyline this season centers on Charlotte and her husband Cooper. Cooper’s son’s mom is experiencing signs of neurological damage when she faints at the hospital. This information is brought to the attention of Charlotte by one of the doctors who must decide how to proceed. She learns that the damage could be caused by a malignant tumor and Charlotte is pressured by the other doctors to find out more information about the patient. Charlotte is in a dilemma because the tumor could be life threatening and this knowledge would drastically affect Cooper’s life with his son. She talks to the patient who refuses to go through any further testing or reveal any more information about her past medical history. It is clear that the patient does not want Charlotte to tell Cooper. The only way to gain more information is by having the patient’s confident files sent from her previous hospital to St. Ambrose Hospital for emergency medical reasons. Charlotte decides to make the call and tells the other hospital that the patient is in a coma and is unable to release the files herself.
There is an ethical issue with how Charlotte proceeded with this dilemma. She used her authority as Chief of Staff to lie to another hospital and disregard hospital-patient confidentiality. She wants to help the patient by learning more about her condition so she can use her expertise to find treatments. However, the patient was aware of her own condition and has the right for her medical health to remain private knowledge. Although in the show I sympathize with Charlotte, I feel like this sort of thing happens often (at least in shows such as Greys Anatomy and Private Practice…this is similar to Meredith’s ethical dilemma in Jenna’s post). So is it unethical for these doctors to breach confidentiality? The obvious answer is yes. But is it also circumstantial? Is it more of a gray area than black and white, right or wrong?