Right to Privacy and Confidentiality
The 1997 medical ethics guidelines proposed by the National Human Rights Commission debar doctors from sharing a patient’s confidential information for any monetary inducement
The exchange of information between a doctor and patient is always confidential and personal. Confidentiality helps patients to be frank and honest with their physician, which in turn leads to better health outcomes. A good doctor will protect patient privacy, as it helps build trust and bonding between them. The issue of confidentiality needs to be addressed even more urgently with the introduction of electronic medical records, which can be shared easily with the click of a mouse. Although the electronic exchange of health information offers significant benefits, it increases the risk of inadvertently exposing private medical information.
The meaning of confidentiality
Because patients share so much sensitive, private and personal information with their doctor, the duty to maintain confidentiality has been enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath. The International Code of Medical Ethics states that “A physician shall preserve absolute confidentiality about all he knows about his patient, even after his patient has died.”
As per the Medical Council of India Code of Ethics Section Clause 7.14, “The registered medical practitioner shall not disclose the secrets of a patient that have been learnt in the exercise of his/her profession except –
i) In a court of law under orders of the Presiding Judge;
ii) In circumstances where there is a serious and identified risk to a specific person and/or community; and
iii) Notifiable diseases. It is his duty that he should inform public health authorities immediately about any communicable or notifiable disease. “
Of course, matters become more complex when there is a conflict between the right to privacy and the right to health of another individual.
Ideally, information about a patient’s records should not be released to anyone outside of the hospital without the patient’s authorization, unless it’s being shared with another healthcare facility to which the patient is being transferred, or if the release has been ordered by a court. If this is being done under a third-party payment contract for research work on aggregated statistics, information sharing is permissible, provided the patient’s identity is masked.
When software engineer, Abdul Mustafa (name changed) tested HIV-positive, he did not want his employers or his friends to know about it. Had the doctor still gone ahead and divulged this information, it would have amounted to a breach of trust and the confidentiality proviso. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) in the USDA made several sweeping changes relating to privacy and confidentiality of medical records. It established privacy procedures, the need to inform patients about these procedures; the need to train employees to follow strict privacy guidelines, and the importance of designating an individual to oversee the healthcare organisation’s privacy initiatives. In India, where such laws don’t exist, it’s important that patients seek the help of patient-advocates in securing their right to privacy and confidentiality.
Shh….A Patient Has the Right to Confidentiality Patients need to be confident that the doctor will protect their confidentiality. Thus, if you don’t want your psychiatrist or your infertility consultant to call your secretary to leave a reminder about your next appointment, please make this request in writing.