It is the right of an individual to have their medical information kept private and confidential. And in the age of fast advancing technology and low cost data storage, the need to protect patient’s medical information has become even more crucial — with hospitals alone accounting for 30% of all big data breaches, according to an article by Health IT Security.
Importance of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality
The whole point of having the concept of confidentiality in the medical profession is to ensure the openness in the practice. In order to receive effective treatment, a patient is required to be truthful and open about his/her issues so as to be treated according to their doctors. It is not just an ethical requirement that keeps the patient’s information undisclosed, but it is legally binding all across the globe.
Importance of Protecting Patient’s Privacy and Confidentiality
The following are some of the major reasons as to why it is important to protect a patient’s privacy and confidentiality:
- Protect patients from bad actors
Even today, there are certain diseases and mental health illnesses that are not readily accepted in society. With the stigmas lurking around, it is given that one would only want to keep their medical information private and from prying eyes. A patient’s information being leaked to those not-so-concerned third parties, may even cause irreparable damage to the patient’s reputation and standing in the society. This need to protect one’s medical information may cause them to hesitate from sharing their issues with their medical practitioners as well, further aggravating the issue. It is rare that a patient’s medical information may be just confined to the patient itself as it could have a relation to others in the family of the patient and those around him/her as well.
Maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of the patient’s medical past and present will not only build trust among patients and the doctors, but it also saves the doctor’s reputation, and not to mention it is required by the law.
- Prevent discrimination
We all want to be judged based on our abilities to perform in work and as well as in personal life, and not be defined by our illnesses and chronic conditions that we may have. A patient dealing with it’s health concerns already bears the symptoms, both physically and mentally, and not having that information revealed to those who are not concerned will go a long way to preserving the patient’s mental health. Most of the times its the ignorance that drives the discrimination, and the most effective way to not let that happen is by letting the patient take control their medical information.
- Retain patients
Though the business aspect of the need to maintain patient privacy and confidentiality should not be the force driving it — nevertheless, it is important for the private healthcare sector. In order to maintain a continuous engagement with the patients in care, and a positive business growth the patient’s need to feel comfortable sharing their secrets with their concerned medical practitioner. Breaching this sacred practice not only hampers individual’s lives, but it harms the reputation of the doctor and the hospital they’re associated with — leading to loss of business. Having a reputable practice and business will lead to more medical advancements and better treatments for the patients in the long term.
- Ensure patient’s trust
A patient’s trust is very crucial when it comes to medical practice. In order for the doctors to do their job well, they need to know what’s causing a patient’s illness and that depends on the patient being open about themselves. With a safe space being provided to patients, they are even more willing to seek medical attention when suffering from diseases and illnesses.
- Legal reasons
Preserving patient protected health information(PHI) and personal identifiable information(PII) is not only an ethical obligation, but a legal requirement. Breach of the confidentiality can lead to serious actions being taken against the doctor or the hospital, which affects their practice and reputation as well.
What are the Laws Maintaining Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?
In India, there are two such provisions protecting a patient’s health information and forbidding doctors from disclosing any information related to them:
- The Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, section 2.2 Patience, Delicacy and Secrecy states that
Confidences concerning individual or domestic life entrusted by patient to a physician and defects in the disposition or character of patients observed during medical attendance should never be revealed
- Code of Medical Ethics Regulations, 2002.7.14: The registered medical practitioner shall not disclose the secrets of a patient that have been learnt in the exercise of his/her profession except – in a court of law under orders of the Presiding Judge; in circumstances where there is a serious and identified risk to a specific person and/or community; and notifiable diseases.