In the legal system, client confidentiality allows defendants to say anything and everything to their attorneys to get “the whole story” without any fear that incriminating information will ever be shared elsewhere.

In religion, clergy are sworn to secrecy in any sort of confessionary situation involving members of a congregation. 

In healthcare, doctor-patient confidentiality is very similar, but rather than incriminating words, a doctor is sworn to keep any private matters discussed with a patient, just that: private.

A history of physical abuse, for instance, is not something most people want a lot of people knowing, but it can be relative to a healthcare discussion, thus a doctor may have to know.

With doctor-patient confidentiality, no one other than the doctor will ever know that information, or there can be very serious legal ramification. 

Background

Confidentiality relating to healthcare dates way back to Ancient Roman cultures, as part of an oath that physicians needed to take before they were able to practice medicine.

The oath, which was taken more than 2,000 years ago, includes the language:

“Whatever, in connection with my professional service, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret. Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; and it is not lawful to impart them to the profane.”

From a morality standpoint, not much has changed, and that same feeling is why doctor-patient confidentiality exists today. 

Ways it Can Break

It’s very rare that a doctor will simply spill the proverbial beans regarding one of her or his patients. However, there are other ways patient-doctor confidentiality can be broken.

One of the most common ways this happens is via a cyber attack on electronic health records.

The very system of electronic health records is not particularly streamlined, and rather than a large, central hub, they are spread across more than 20 different systems, the largest of which only possess about 12 percent of all electronic health records online. 

With this, hospital systems need to invest a lot of money into protecting their electronic records, a vast majority of which have information that is legally private, due to doctor-patient confidentiality, which exists even after a patient has died. 

There are a few legally protected cases where confidentiality can be breached, but these are almost always related to court proceedings, and require a legal motion by a judge in order for any information to be released. 

Why It Is Important

Protecting patient confidentiality is really in the best interests of all parties involved in a given agreement, as well as in the best interest in human beings (patients) as a whole.

Information saves lives when it comes to healthcare, and if breaches in patient confidentiality become more commonplace, a lack of trust in healthcare professionals would also become more commonplace, resulting in less information and, in turn, less success when it comes to treating a given patient. 

With the big picture in mind, protecting this information is important to maintaining trust in the healthcare system, and focus (and money) need to be invested in the protection and streamlining of electronic healthcare records, or patient trust will deteriorate. 

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