Patient Privacy Often Compromised
Breaches of patient confidentiality, many of them inadvertent, are widespread, according to a report in the spring issue of Health Communication.
Breaches of patient confidentiality, many of them inadvertent, are widespread, according to a report in the spring issue of Health Communication. “Physicians must realize that their routine activities can often compromise patients’ care,” co-author Dr. Maria Brann from West Virginia University, Morgantown, told Reuters Health. “Depending on who gains access to this information, patients may lose their jobs, their reputation may be jeopardized, or they may stop seeking care because of the disclosure, which may affect their physical and mental health.” Based on 51 interviews with patients, Dr. Brann and Dr. Marifran Mattson from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana defined confidentiality breaches as any communication of patient information involving unauthorized persons, including anyone who did not have the patient’s overt or implied permission. Most breaches (81 percent) occurred within the health care organization. Only a minority involved conversations with friends or family or with others outside the health care organization. The researchers divided internal confidentiality breaches into four categories: informal conversations among health care providers; telephone conversations involving health care providers; dialogue between health care providers and patients; and dialogue about a patient between a health care provider and a nonpatient. External confidentiality breaches included sharing confidential information with families and sharing confidential information with friends. “This is an important topic for everyone involved in health care, whether they be providers, administrators, or patients,” Brann pointed out. “Individuals need to be aware of their surroundings when sharing information with others.” In fact, “the main message for physicians,” Mattson told Reuters Health,” is to be more cognizant of when and where they are communicating confidential patient information and to make sure this information is only revealed to appropriate others in confidential spaces.” (SOURCE: Health Communication: Reuters Health News: Will Boggs, MD: June 2004)