Legal and Ethical Aspects of Medicine – Confidentiality: By Nelson Chan M.D.

Legal and Ethical Aspects of Medicine – Confidentiality: By Nelson Chan M.D.


Confidentiality is a key component of the
patient-physician relationship. Patients who believe that their health information will
remain confidential are more likely to provide doctors with more accurate information, which
in turn will lead to better medical advice. Here are 3 things you cannot forget about
confidentiality: Most breaches are inadvertentYou may encounter
a particularly challenging case that you want to share with your colleagues. That is okay,
as long as you don’t disclose information that can reasonably lead to the identity of
the patient – like name, initials, prominent family members, or occupation (if unusual).
You should also refrain from sharing cases on social media, especially those that might
be on the news, as you can easily lose control of who sees this information once posted.
Confidentiality applies to individuals, not familiesIt is not uncommon for physicians
to care for multiple family members. This can be very rewarding but also fraught with
ethical dilemmas. What if your patient asked you why you prescribed birth control pills
to her 15-year-old daughter? Or what if you received a request from an insurance company
for your patient’s family history after you recently diagnosed his father with coronary
artery disease?With few exceptions, you can only disclose medical information with your
patient’s implied or express consent and the information disclosed should have been
collected directly from that patient. There are exceptions to confidentialityThe
law recognizes specific situations where you need to disclose information for the greater
public good. An example of mandatory reporting is when you suspect that a child is in need
of protection. There are also situations where it is permissible for a physician to report
to governmental agency – for instance in the situation in which a patient demonstrates
to you that he or she will likely inflict serious harm on a specific person or group
of persons.

3 thoughts on “Legal and Ethical Aspects of Medicine – Confidentiality: By Nelson Chan M.D.”

  1. Soik has to go abroad to receive treatment because the local police distributed details of his criminal past to all doctors and chemists. In his own country he has to register with a drug clinic or pay a high bill to a private doctor who is not intimated by 40 yr old gossip. This is England. Soik believes that a major breach in doctor patient confidentiality has occurred but here in the UK social class is everything. Freedom in the UK is frowned upon.

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