I take a class from a legal professional every so often to keep my license current and help me stay out of trouble. Like a code of ethics, it covers a ton of really ridiculous stuff that seems like it should be common sense. Why does it even have to be stated? Well, because it’s been an issue before for somebody somewhere.

I live and used to practice in a very neighborly community. Everybody knows everybody, or does eventually. If I don’t say hi and ask after your condition when you see me out and about, I promise I’m not a total jerk (although I’m kind of terrible with names and faces and what we worked on last time 2 weeks ago. That’s why you have a file.), but there are privacy laws in effect for your protection. They’re pretty strict, too. If Sting came in for acupuncture before a show, and TMZ called me, all I could say legally is, “I can neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Sumner was a patient at this clinic.” Unless I got his written permission. Knowing me, I will totally forget to obtain this or a selfie or a video testimonial if somebody famous has a great experience on my table.

“But I’m not famous, what’s up?” Well, if I’m treating you for erectile dysfunction or something embarrassing, you probably don’t want that to get out. And what’s the next thing that comes up after, “Oh, he’s getting acupuncture?” Maybe, “what for?” Right? The law doesn’t care what you’re seeing me about, even if it’s something as common as knee pain. I’m not allowed to talk about you as a patient unless you have given me permission.

It’s for patient protection. If you want to say wonderful things about our sessions, that is your right, and please do! However, awkwardly, when the person you referred to me says your name, I’m probably going to sound a little noncommittal. That’s just me trying to follow the rules.

If you call me about a patient who isn’t you, I need their authorization to so much as confirm they’re my patient. That might seem ridiculous to you, but I don’t know your relation. You might say you’re a brother and actually you’re a psycho ex against whom they’ve got a restraining order. Maybe their church thinks my methods are evil, even though my practice has no religious aspect. If you are curious about how I might help you, just ask. It’s about you, not about another patient. Or if you told your friend to call me, I’m not allowed to talk about their appointment.

On the same vein, when family members come together, if the patient doesn’t want to be accompanied to the treatment room, that is fine and totally normal. Whether the patient is experiencing abuse, is a child who actually doesn’t have all those symptoms and just wanted to get out of school, or just doesn’t want to talk about their bodily functions in front of you, it’s their right to want the session with me to be private. If they’re more comfortable, I get more honest answers to my questions and can treat them better.

So, there is your patient law/etiquette lesson of the day. And along the lines of following the law, even if I were single, I could lose my license for dating a patient, so just don’t go there.

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