Visiting the doctor can sometimes be an awkward experience, sometimes you may be asked about personal matters you might not want everyone to know, or you might need to expose yourself in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Often, we may feel uncomfortable about answering the doctor’s questions truthfully. This article discusses confidentiality and the laws that our doctors are bound to follow.
Why does Confidentiality Matter?
Often, a doctor will need to ask personal questions to best understand a patient’s health and what potential health problems they could be at risk of. Some of these questions may involve the patient’s age, health status, sexual activities, drug use, work performance, interpersonal relationships and other private matters. Often, whether it be for personal or professional reasons, a patient may not want this personal information to be spread. However, for the doctor, knowing this information may be critical to understanding what may be going on with the patient’s health. For this reason, it is important for the patient to trust the doctor and know that the doctor will keep this information secret.
What are the laws about confidentiality in Australia?
Doctors have an ethical, professional and legal duty to protect a patient’s privacy with regards to their personal and health information. This means that any information discussed with your doctor will be kept between you and your doctor and treating team. This means that the information will not be shared with family members, workplaces, insurance companies or even the police. There are very few exceptions to this:
If you give your expressed permission for the information to be shared to a certain person/group.
In a medical emergency where the information may help save your life and you are incapacitated and unable to give consent
If your doctor has reasonable belief that you pose imminent danger to yourself or others (for example, plans to murder someone or domestic abuse), they must notify the relevant authorities
For certain infectious diseases, there is an obligation for the doctor to notify the Centre for Infectious Disease Control, so that the spread of this disease can be monitored and limited.
What About Children?
It is important to note that if a minor is judged to be legally capable of consenting to medical treatment (ie old enough to comprehend and process information and then make a decision), then their confidentiality must also be respected, including from their parents.
What if I want to know the details of my loved one’s health?
The only way we will share information regarding the health of another person is with the doctor witnessing their expressed permission. The patient must be clear with who the doctor is allowed to share this information, and what information is allowed to be shared. It is also important that this permission is not given under duress.
Australian Medical Association. 2018. Privacy and confidentiality | Australian Medical Association. [ONLINE] Available at: https://ama.com.au/privacy-and-confidentiality. [Accessed 28 May 2018].
Better Health Channel. 2018. Confidentiality and privacy in healthcare. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/servicesandsupport/confidentiality-and-privacy-in-healthcare. [Accessed 28 May 2018].
General Medical Council. 2018. Confidentiality – GMC. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.gmc-uk.org/ethical-guidance/ethical-guidance-for-doctors/confidentiality. [Accessed 28 May 2018].
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