Confidentiality in Health Care
by Vijitha Kantety
What IS Confidentiality in Health Care?
Confidentiality is one of the core duties of medical practice. It requires healthcare providers to keep a patient’s personal health information private unless consent to release the information is provided by the patient.
How is Confidentiality Used In Health Care?
Patients routinely share personal information with health care providers. If the confidentiality of this information were not protected, trust in the physician-patient relationship would be diminished. Patients would be less likely to share sensitive information, which could negatively impact their care.
Obligations of Confidentiality
The obligation of confidentiality prohibits the health care provider from disclosing information about the patient's case to others without permission and encourages the providers and health care systems to take precautions to ensure that only authorized access occurs.
Appropriate care often requires that information about patients be discussed among members of a health care team; all team members have authorized access to confidential information about the patients they care for and assume the duty of protecting that information from others who do not have access. Electronic medical records can pose challenges to confidentiality.
In accordance with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1997 (HIPAA), institutions are required to have policies to protect the privacy of patients’ electronic information, including procedures for computer access and security.
Problems Frequently Addressed
Unintended disclosures may occur in a variety of ways. For example, when pressed for time, providers may be tempted to discuss a patient in the elevator or other public place, but maintaining privacy may not be possible in these circumstances. Similarly, extra copies of handouts from teaching conferences that contain identifiable patient information should be removed at the conclusion of the session in order to protect patient privacy. And identifiable patient information should either be encrypted or should not be removed from the security of the health care institution. The patient's right to privacy is violated when lapses of this kind occur.
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- Hamburg, Margaret, MD (1999, July 20). Testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, Hearing on Confidentiality of Health Information.
- Hash, Michael (1999, July20). Testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, Hearing on Confidentiality of Health Information.
- Health Privacy Project, Institute for Health Care Research and Policy, Georgetown University (July 1999). Best Principles for Health Privacy, A Report of the Health Privacy Working Group.