One of a physician’s most important ethical duties is the duty of confidentiality. Your patients trust you with their most personal health and medical information, and trust that you will keep it private.
A patient who files a complaint against you for breaching your duty of confidentiality can cause you tremendous stress and anxiety.
This is understandable. You worked hard to get where you are, and even if you do not lose your medical license, an ethical complaint can potentially damage your entire career and reputation.
You may have revealed a client’s information, believing it was permissible, only to find out the client has filed a complaint against you.
HIPAA rules regarding confidentiality
As part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) a patient decides what health information they allow to be disclosed, and which to which specific people.
Typically, a patient provides a list of individuals that information can be shared with. These individuals are usually caregivers, family or friends.
As a physician, you must generally use your professional judgment to decide which information should be shared.
Talk to your patient before sharing anything
Before disclosing anything, try to speak to your patient privately and confirm that the person or caregiver is allows to receive the information.
If the patient objects to you giving certain information to a caregiver, do not share anything, even if you believe the caregiver should know about it. The best way to protect yourself is to share information only on a “need to know” basis.
Do not have conversations without the patient present
Always try to share the information with the patient present, rather than privately with the caregiver, friend of family member. This decreases the chance of the patient getting the wrong idea of what information was shared.
You have rights if a complaint is filed against you. It is important to seek legal counsel to help you protect these rights and your career.