Ethics refers to a set of values and judgments that are applicable in a profession. Confidentiality is one of the ethical values that are applicable in medical professions. Under these values, medical personnel is supposed to keep any information offered by a patient private. There are however some cases in which a medical practitioner can be forced into a dilemma in which revealing a patient’s information as offered to the health personnel may be a necessity. This paper seeks to discuss the application of ethical frameworks in medical practice. The paper will look into the ethics of patient-physician privilege with a specification to patient-physician confidence, the ethics of confidence between patient and physician, and conditions under which such confidence can be broken.
Confidentiality of a patient’s information as revealed to a medical practitioner is legally and ethically upheld. Once a patient engages with medical personnel, there is an implied agreement that the information provided by the patient shall remain in the confidence of the health worker and must not be “used or disclosed in a form that might identify a patient without his or her consent” (Department, 2009, 1). Confidentiality in the medical profession is derived from bases that include legal provisions, ethical values as well as contracts that could be signed by the practitioners as they get into employment. This means that a breach of a patient’s confidence by a health officer is prosecutable in a court of law. Professional values also obligate a health officer to keep such secrets that are revealed by his or her patient (Department, 2009, p. 1).
Apart from the requirement that a patient’s health information should not be disclosed so as to identify the patient, such information should be restricted from access by any other person apart from cases where the patient consents so. This means that cases of the third party approaching medical personnel for information that relates to their patients are protected under confidentiality. A relative, for instance, is not entitled to a patient’s medical information unless allowed by the patient. According to Buerki and Vottero (2002), a patient’s confidence is extended to information such as a diagnosis and prescriptions given to the patient. A patient’s medical records are also protected under these contexts of privacy. With provisions that medical consultations be made in an environment that holds privacy in terms of audio and visual aspects, a medical officer has the obligation to protect a patient’s information (Buerki and Vottero, 2002). A person’s personal information such as pregnancy issues and even issues that relates to sexually transmitted diseases can not just be revealed to third parties (Scott, 2000).
Exemptions of patient confidentiality
Though confidentiality of a patient’s information is provided for, there are some cases whereby health personnel is required to disclose a patient’s information to specified people. Since maintenance of the privacy of a patient’s information is normally aimed at protecting the patient from harm that disclosure of such information can cause and owing to a physician’s obligation to act in the best interest of a patient’s health, circumstances may force the practitioner to consider disclosing such information in order to protect the patient’s health. There are actually conditions when a practitioner is allowed or even obligated to disclose a patient’s information. The basis of such conditions for disclosure is the existence of a possibility of harm. If the practitioner notices or believes that the possible harm involved in holding a patients is more than the harm involved in disclosure, then ethical values and legal provisions again require the physician to reveal such information to relevant people. One of the cases that call for a breach in a patient’s privacy is the potential danger that the patient may pose to other people. Breach of privacy is allowed if the medical personnel identifies or has reasons to believe, through the information provided, that the patient is a threat to an individual’s well-being (Ethics, 2008).
The breach is also required by state laws in cases where the patient poses harm to a community in general. Such allowances include cases where patients are diagnosed with particular diseases that are supposed to be reported as required by state laws. Under this category, cases of communicable diseases including AIDS are supposed to be reported to relevant government agencies (Ethics, 2008). A doctor is also allowed to disclose information of a patient if concealing such information might expose the patient to possible harm. If the patient is realized to be at a risk with the possibility that the patient might not reveal such conditions subjecting him or her to the risks, then the doctor has the responsibility to reveal the patient’s condition with the aim of protecting the patient (Kuhse and Singer, 2006).
Patient privacy has been a long time legal and ethical requirement in the medical profession. A medical practitioner is obligated to maintain the privacy of a patient’s information unless the patient consents over disclosure. Such information can however be disclosed if the patient is believed to be in danger or to be a danger to other people based on the information provided to a physician.
Buerki, R and Vottero, L. (2002). Ethical responsibility in pharmacy practice. Wisconsin: Amer. Inst. History of Pharmacy.
Department. (2009). Patient confidentiality. Web.
Ethics. (2008). Confidentiality. Web.
Kuhse, H and Singer, P. (2006). Bioethics: an anthology. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.
Scott, R. (2000). Legal aspects of documenting patient care. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.