patient-confidentiality

Confidentiality is one of the core duties of medical practice. It requires health care providers to keep a patient’s personal health information private unless consent to release the information is provided by the patient.

Why is confidentiality important?

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. Why is confidentiality important?

Creating a trusting environment by respecting patient privacy encourages the patient to seek care and to be as honest as possible during the course of a health care visit. (See also Physician-Patient Relationship.) It may also increase the patient’s willingness to seek care. For conditions that might be stigmatizing, such as reproductive, public health, and psychiatric health concerns, confidentiality assures that private information will not be disclosed to family or employers without their consent.

What does the duty of confidentiality require?

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.

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