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Op-Ed: Did Dr. Phil Cross The Line?

By KJ Mullins     Jan 9, 2008 in Health
When "Dr. Phil" McGraw spoke out last weekend about Britney Spears' condition did he cross a line? Her family thinks so. Dr. Phil breached patient doctor confidentiality by talking to the press after a weekend visit with Ms. Spears.
"The family basically extended an invitation of trust for him to come in as a resource to support them, not to go out and make public statements," Taylor said. "Any statement publicly that he made, because he was brought in under this cloak of trust, (is) just inappropriate."
The family did not invite him to visit with Ms. Spears to add to the ongoing media circus that surrounds her every move.
On his own behalf Dr. Phil states:
Somebody needs to step up and get this young woman into some quality care - and I do not apologize one whit, not one second, for trying to make that happen"
As for the law it is not so much a law but the ethical stance of the Oath of Hippocrates.
"Whatever, in connection with my professional service, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret."
"Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; and it is not lawful to impart them to the profane until they have been initiated into the mysteries of the science."
While what McGraw did by talking to the media is ethically wrong he wasn't going against the law unless a bona-fide doctor-patient relationship exists or existed in that case he really blew it. There is an exception though to the law and McGraw could be in shaky legal water because of it.
California's legal privilege expressly includes psychotherapists and psychiatrists (Section 1010 of Evidence Rules). Patients must expressly waive doctor-patient confidentiality when they become plaintiffs in civil lawsuits (Section 1016 of Evidence Rules). Doctors may withhold certain mental health records from patients if disclosure would have an adverse effect on patient. (H&S Section 1795.12 and.14).
Regardless of the law what "Dr. Phil" did by speaking out about Spears was not on the up and up. If I were a patient in his practice I would be looking for another doctor. One I could trust not to discuss what was going on with my case to anyone other than a person I had authorized.
When trust is broken, a doctor has failed to do their duty.
It may surprise some that as of 2008, McGraw is not licensed to practice psychology because of a ruling on January 27, 1989. In that ruling the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists placed disciplinary sanctions on McCraw for inappropriate "dual relationship" reported in 1988 by a therapy client/employee from 1984 who was 19 years of age at the time. McGraw was ordered to take an ethics class, pass a jurisprudence exam, complete a physical evaluation, undergo a psychological evaluation and have his practice supervised for one year in order to continue his private practice in Texas.
More about Mental health, Phil, Britney spears