Patient confidentiality is an enshrined and fundamental part of medical health care that should be thoroughly considered by all staff associated with the medical industry.
Every person that is treated or cared for in a medical setting has a legal right to control his or her personal health information. Any information that is given to a healthcare professional must only be used for the benefit of care to the discloser and cannot be divulged without permission.
The only times confidential information should be given out is to aid other individuals who have a direct responsibility for your health e.g. a GP and Social Services, when the health and safety of others is at immediate risk or where the law requires to do so e.g. global pandemics.
Any breach of the confidentiality duty by an employee will lead to disciplinary hearings and could lead to a dismissal if the misconduct is serious enough.
Given its significance in the industry, maintaining and protecting confidentiality in fast-paced, highly charged clinical environments can be a daunting task.
No matter what the situation, location or the nature of the work, there are six key measures that every staff member must do to protect a patient’s confidentiality.
- Confirm the patient's identity at the first encounter
- Never discuss details of a patient's case with anyone without their permission - including family and friends whilst off-duty or on breaks
- Never discuss patients’ information over the telephone as per their care plan since poor voice recognition vastly increases the chances of unwillingly revealing confidential material to unauthorised personnel.
- Never leave hard copies of forms or records in places where unauthorized people can access them
- Only use secure methods to send out patient information when required e.g. official mail and clearly state the material is strictly confidential
- Whenever using an interpreter is required, ensure that they understand the importance of patient confidentiality to the industry.
Maintaining patient confidentiality can be tricky just through word of mouth and hard paperwork but the increasing use of technology both inside and outside places of care are broadening the risks of confidentiality being broken.
This week a London NHS Trust accidentally exposed the identities of 781 patients who had attended HIV clinics after sending out a group newsletter revealing the email addresses of the patients.
This administrative error was an example of one of the many major risks that the computerisation of the NHS has created when trying to protect patient confidentiality.
Social media’s now complete integration into the population’s daily life has also raised the chances of medical professionals disclosing confidential information in the public domain without realising it. If any post risks identifying a patient in care of the professional, that individual would be held responsible and will face disciplinary action.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, Search Medical has also provided seven useful tips to help you protect patients’ confidentiality in a technological aspect.
- Keep records that contain patient names and other identifying information in password-protected files
- Never give out secure passwords to unauthorized personnel
- Keep computers in a locked or restricted area and physically or electronically lock the hard disk
- Keep printouts of electronic information in a restricted or locked area and destroy printouts that are no longer needed
- Make sure you read and understand the organisation’s social media policy and enforce/refer when necessary
- Never refer to specific individuals in your care on social media
- Check privacy settings when disclosing mass information via emails and make sure content does not reveal confidential information.
By John Murphy