confidentiality in health care

The importance of patient confidentiality in health care setting The purpose of this assignment is to explore the importance of patient confidentiality. This assignment will define and discuss the values of confidentiality in general and in mental health care setting. It will highlight its importance in individual decisions to seek health care services. Each profession that provides health care embraces confidentiality as a core principle therefore, the legal framework and ethical issues of governing confidentiality and exceptions where confidential information could be disclosed will be discussed as well.

People have a right to privacy for medical information for the same reason as privacy for other personal information. Such information should not be used in a way that ultimately affects the individuals negatively as it could lead to personal and professional problems. Confidentiality is the principle of gathering identifiable patient information during the period of time while receiving medical care which provides individuals with legal and lawful right to know that the information revealed to health care professionals is retained as confidential and has limits on how and where it can be disclosed to other people (Van Dokkum 2005).

Identifiable patient information includes information which can be used to detect and discover an individual’s identity (i. e. patients name, personal public service number, telephone number, date of birth, address, etc. ) and any personal information which is associated with an individual such as medical history, education or employment history, habits, current marriage or partnership, next of kin’s contact details (Anderson and Goodman 2002). Identifiable patient information can be found in document form and/or stored on the computer.

One of the key principles of confidentiality is that there is a responsibility to behave in certain way in order to achieve best outcomes of action based on medical professional’s ability to keep private information in secret. Confidentiality is necessary and plays a huge role in successful operation and performance of health care services. The effectiveness of the functioning of the health care relies on maintaining public trust in the medical profession.

Established security of confidentiality may provide reassurance and contribute to individuals encouragement to seek medical assistance in more opened manner which will promote the development of trusting relationship between the patients and health care professionals (Helmchen and Sartorius 2010). Clinical relationships require disclosure of information that many people would prefer to keep in private. Disclosure of such information may cause “embarrassment or disgrace”(Reid and Silver 2003 p. 67) , therefore, if patient does not feel that he can trust the health care professional they may be reluctant to disclose that information which may lead to incorrect diagnosis and inappropriate treatment. Maheu et al. (2005) argues that treatment can generally advance successfully on the principle of objective facts provided by the individual which relies upon the quality of assurance and trust in which the patient will be willing to disclose the material that is intensely personal.

Another key principle of confidentiality is appreciation of independence and control. Every person has a right to have the capacity to make their own decisions and have a control over who has access to the private details because this permits individuals to participate as fully as possible in society and protects them from unwanted interferences with their choices (Allen 2009). While confidentiality is vital at the same time it is not unconditional.

In some situations, where there is reasonable suspicion of child or elder abuse orwhere there is reasonable suspicion that patient may present danger to others or danger to oneself unless protective measures are taken, the law permits breaches of confidentiality. International Council of Nurses (2006) in Code of Ethics for Nurses states that “the nurse holds in confidence personal information and uses judgement in sharing this information” (p. 2).

Patient confidentiality is usually referred to as ethical issue where it is controlled by Code of Professional Conduct. Health care professionals are generally obliged by confidentiality clause in their contract of employment as well. However confidentiality is a legal duty at the same time. Van Dokkum (2005) points out that legal rules of government and society ought guarantee that individuals willingness to sacrifice privacy will be honoured and safeguarded.

According to HIQA (2010) national standards of patient confidentiality are based on existing national and international legislation where national legislation includes Data Protection Acts (1998 and 2003), the forthcoming Information Bill, Data Protection Regulations 1989, Freedom of Information Acts (1997 and 2003), The Health (Provision of Information) Act (1997), The Disability Act (2005), The Statistics Act (1993), The Social Welfare Acts ( 1998, 2002 and 2005) and The European Convention of Human

Rights Act 2003 and international data protection is outlined in OECD Guidelines Covering the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (1980) and Council’s of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to the Automatic Processing of Personal Data (1981). The obligation to maintain patient confidentiality does not change when caring for the individuals with mental health problems. However, due to continuing stigma related to mental health it is not only important to protect patients confidentiality but to secure patients anonymousness as well.

Stigma is a negative social label that identifies people as deviant because they have personal and social characteristics that lead people to exclude them (Johnson 2000). There are many misconceptions in our society that create stigma therefore, it prevents people with mental health problems to seek mental health service even if there are effective treatments available (Boyd 2008). People with mental illness (or a past history of mental illness) are vulnerable to discrimination in a variety of contexts.

Stereotypes surrounding mental health keep people from getting meaningful jobs and advancing in the workplace, getting and keeping a safe place to live, being accepted by their family, friends and community, taking part in social activities, finding and making friends or having other long-term relationships. As a result stigma deprives an individual of his or her dignity, limits opportunities and interferes with full participation in society (Dovidio, Major and Crocker 2000).

In conclusion I would like to say that patient confidentiality is a core value which provides the foundation for trust in the therapeutic relationship. Health care workers must respect patient’s confidences. Private information, especially if identifiable, should only be disclosed to the third party with the consent of the patient. The consequences of undermining this duty of confidence would be damaging to the individuals health and treatment. Protecting patient privacy and confidentiality is vital mission of health care services as it helps to increase patient’s satisfaction and sense of dignity. It helps ensure that patients get the most effective care.


list Allen, A. 2009. Privacy and medicine [Online]. Available from: http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/privacy-medicine/ [Accessed 04 November 2010]. Anderson, J. G. and Goodman, K. W. 2002. Ethics and information technology: A case – based approach to a health care system in transition. New York: Springer. Boyd, A. M. 2008. Psychiatric Nursing: Contemporary Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Dovidio, J. F. Major, B. nd Crocker, J. 2000. The social psychology of stigma. New York: The Guildford Press. Helmchen, H. and Sartorius, N. 2010. Ethics in psychiatry: European contributions. London: Springer. HIQA. 2010. An “As Is” Analysis of Information Governance in Health and Social Care Settings in Ireland [Online]. Available from: http://www. hiqa. ie/media/pdfs/Info_Governance_As_Is_Analysis. pdf [Accessed 10 November 2010]. International Council of Nurses (ICN). 2006. Code of ethics for nurses. Geneva: Imprimerie Fornara. Johnson, A. G. 2000.

The Blackwell dictionary of sociology: a user’s guide to sociological language. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Maheu, M. M. , Pulier, M. L. , Wilhelm, F. H. , McMenamin, J. P. and Brown – Connolly, N. P. 2005. The mental health professional and the new technologies: a handbook for practice today. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Reid, W. H. and Silver, S. B. 2003. Handbook of mental health administration and management. New York: Brunner-Routledge. Van Dokkum, N. 2005. Nursing law for Irish students. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

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