Ethics & law
Essential in maintaining patient and wider public health
- By: Julian Sheather
Phone hacking scandals, celebrity use of super injunctions, uploading of military data on Wikileaks: it is no exaggeration to say that confidentiality and its breaches—the word “confidentiality” is used here loosely as the requirement to control access to sensitive information—has been making some major headlines recently.
An interest in confidentiality spreads wider though than faithless celebrities and military secrets. Potentially sensitive personal information is also the lifeblood of the doctor-patient relationship. There are clearly times when our most intimate details, physical and psychological, could be clinically relevant, and sharing them with medical professionals can lead to good therapeutic outcomes. A respect for confidentiality here is critical.
Beyond the doctor-patient relationship, even the most sensitive personal information, if placed in the right hands, can be used to benefit us all. Medical research, epidemiology, the efficient running of health services—they are all important social goods that depend on access to good quality