Patient Privacy as one of the Pillars of Medicine

Patient privacy in healthcare settings is about the correct use of an individual’s information and their right to decide how their personal information may be used.

Patient privacy concerns any information about an individual. Such as their past, current or future emotional and mental health condition. It also includes any information that could identify an individual. There are usually strict parameters set by health professions councils describing how information may be used.

Practitioners in the healthcare field hold information about patients that is private and sensitive. Healthcare Acts state that an individual’s information is not allowed to be used without the patient’s consent. There may be instances where the healthcare professional can justify the disclosure.  Therefore these instances are also described by healthcare guidelines.

Why is patient privacy critical?

What we do with an individual’s information is critical as it determines the level of trust that exists between a patient and the healthcare professional. I recently saw a youngster whose father died unexpectedly of a heart attack. She had been with him to the doctor three days before. When her father came out of the consultation he was smiling and joking.

She did find it strange that he spent the following evenings in late conversations with her mother. After he died they contacted the doctor to ask if he had suspected anything. The doctor indicated that he had told his patient that his condition was very poor and that nothing more could be done for him. The doctor had clearly respected his client’s wish to withhold this information from the family.

Patient privacy reflects the professionalism and integrity of the healthcare professional. Furthermore it indicates the extent to which the healthcare professional respects an individual.

Typical Dilemmas

Counsellors who work for Employee Wellness Programmes need to be mindful of how they treat matters related to patient privacy.

Employers may request information on a patient to determine their suitability for on-going employment, promotion, etc. The counsellor’s loyalty is to their patient. This means that any information that is shared with the employer needs to be approved by the patient.

The information shared will be stated in broad terms. No confidential information should be shared. Recommendations will be stated in a constructive way bearing the best interest of the patient in mind.

In some cases family members request information on a patient. If the patient is over the age of 18 then the healthcare professional has no right to share any information.

Even with under-age patients it is important to talk to your patient about the kind of feedback you will give their parents. Although parents have the right to feedback, you and the patient need to talk about what will be shared and what will not be divulged. Unless you do this the youngster will not trust you.

Obviously each case is different and the nature of the issue will vary. The kind of feedback that will be provided to family members needs to be discussed by the healthcare professional and patient.

Record keeping

It is important to document that a patient has given their consent about what may be shared and what will remain undisclosed. This protects the best interests of the patient.

Patient privacy needs to be respected when it comes to keeping notes. A patient has the right to see notes kept on them. So it is important to ensure that the notes are an accurate and neutral reflection of discussions.  Where you as the health professional have raised concerns on matters these need to be recorded for future reference as well.

If you need to refer a patient to someone else then ensure that your information is impartial. Most medical professionals keep the referral notes very brief.

As health professionals we are here to serve our patients. It is therefore imperative that we do our utmost to protect our client as well as the integrity of our relationship. If you have found yourself in situations where you were unsure of how to act and want to learn from this, you may be interested in some coaching sessions.



Posted in Therapy.