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May 13, 2008 - Doctor Sued for Unauthorized Disclosure of Patient's HIV Status

A Boston man claiming that a Carital St. Elizabeth's emergency room doctor accidentally disclosed he was HIV-positive is suing the hospital and the doctor for negligence. The man, identified only as John Doe in his civil lawsuit filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that he overheard Dr. Angela Sweeney disclose to his boss that he had tested positive for HIV when he was treated for unrelated illness in 2005.

Massachusetts law forbids  a physician from disclosing a patient's HIV/AIDS status without written consent.

"It's surreal. My life hasn't been the same," said Doe. "I had no intention of telling anybody until I was ready," Doe said. "I've lived my life as an openly gay man, but this was not part of the plan."

Doe's attorney received a letter in July 2007 from a hospital claims management director, stating, "We are of course very sorry this unintentional disclosure involving Mr. (Doe) happened."

The disclosure happened when Doe's supervisor  was wearing "a white Oxford shirt and a tie" in the emergency room when Sweeny, assuming Doe's boss was another doctor, allegedly began discussing Doe's HIV/AIDS status.

"When something like this happens, the public's trust is eroded. People will not receive testing and HIV will spread," Doe's attorney said yesterday.

"HIV is an incredibly personal medical condition," he said. "The release of HIV information can be devastating. The bias and stigma attached to it changes people's lives."

In addition to unspecified damages, Doe is asking the court to order Caritas St. Elizabeth's to "review and implement safeguards against wrongful disclosure of patient information," as well as "requiring badges or other identification that provides assurance that the individual receiving such information is a physician or healthcare provider."

"Walking up to a stranger in an emergency room is not sufficient," Doe's attorney said.

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