Kentucky Court of Appeals Reinstates HIV Status Disclosure Lawsuit Filed Against Physician
The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated a lawsuit filed against a physician who disclosed a patient's HIV status to the patient's employer, the AP/Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The appeals court ruled that Dr. Julio Melo, an infectious disease specialist, could have excluded his reference to Steven Barnett's HIV status in his treatment notes regarding an infection Barnett developed as a result of a cat bite he received working at a Louisville veterinary clinic. After being bitten by the cat, Barnett filed a workers' compensation claim and visited Melo for an examination; Melo billed Barnett's employer, Dr. Keith Gaines, for the visit and attached treatment notes revealing that Barnett is HIV-positive and had received past treatment for colon cancer. Barnett, "who had kept his HIV status strictly confidential," said his work atmosphere was "extremely tense" after Melo disclosed the information to Gaines, and Barnett later moved to another state, the court said. Barnett later filed suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court against Melo for invasion of privacy but the court dismissed the lawsuit, and Barnett appealed the decision. In the case, Melo argued that workers' compensation law requires him to attach treatment notes to bills he sends to employers. However, Barnett argued that Melo violated a separate law that requires confidentiality of HIV test results and forbids the release of HIV test results to a patient's employer. The appeals court reinstated the lawsuit ruling that the "more specific" HIV test law takes precedence over the workers' compensation law (Wolfe, AP/Lexington Herald-Leader, 12/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.