Ethics & law
A patient told me about their drug use—should I tell his GP?
Marika Davies, a medicolegal adviser, gives advice on some common ethical dilemmas faced by medical students
It is easy to understand why you felt uncomfortable. As a medical student you are taught at an early stage that confidentiality is central to the trust that patients have in the medical profession, and that you have the same duty of confidentiality towards your patients as a doctor. The General Medical Council’s guidance for medical students says, “Patients have a right to expect that information about them will be held in confidence.”1
However, there are two issues to consider. Firstly, you are part of the clinical team looking after this patient, and GMC guidance says, “Patients usually understand that information about them has to be shared within the healthcare team to provide their care.”2 As a medical student you are not yet in a position to make an informed judgment about the importance of information patients give you. Patients may not realise the limitations of the knowledge and experience