It is the duty of healthcare providers to sustain the confidentiality of their patients. However, healthcare practitioners face a huge workload and sometimes find themselves taking part in discussions about their patients. The code of ethics for all healthcare practitioners prohibits any discussion on the healthcare of patients without their knowledge. Today, there are new technologies that enable people to engage in conversations without physically being close to one another.
Such technologies include social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter that allow two or more people to have a conversation and share multimedia content. The presence and ease of access of such social networking tools make it possible for healthcare practitioners to ease their workload pressures by instantly connecting to their social circles. Unfortunately, the solution does not come without drawbacks.
Leach (2009) reports in the Telegraph that out of 78 US medical schools, more than half had cases of students sharing information online in an unprofessional way. Moreover, the Telegraph report indicates that the number of guileless violations falls within the ratio of one for every ten students.
The main online forums that medical students used to share content unprofessionally were blogs and the social networking site, Facebook. According to the article, violations reported were in the form of profanity and the use of discriminatory language while describing patients or their conditions. Additionally, the report notes that the medical students behaved in a conduct that could not be justified given the fact that they were training to become physicians.
Behaviors such as being frequently drunk and disorderly contributed largely to the violation of patient’s trust and public trust in the medical students and the healthcare profession in general. Most of the information posted online breached doctor-patient agreement or expectation on confidentiality. Because of the violations of patient confidentiality, students receive informal warnings and when the violations become serious, medical schools have no other choice but to dismiss the particular students.
Arguments and Facts Used in the Article to Support Solution
The article indicates that it is important to instill the discipline expected of a medical practitioner to students. Therefore, medical students need to know practically the disadvantages and consequences of being careless with the information they give out while contributing to social conversations.
Additionally, students need to be extra careful when using online media to communicate because the internet exponentially increases the speed and access to information. The article indicates that a possible cause of the high number of student misconduct cases is a result of the lack of sound policies that cover engagements in social network and blogging services online (Leach, 2009).
Ethical and legal issues reported
The Telegraph article, discussed above, points out ethical misgivings that include the failure to ask for the patient’s permission before disclosing their status to other persons. Medical practitioners abide by the oath of Hippocrates that simply states that they should not speak of anything that they see or hear in the lives of their patients that is not acceptable. The US law protects a patient’s confidentially through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Under this law, medical practitioners and mostly physicians have to abide by requirements that regulate the handling and disclosure of patient’s health information transactions and their confidentiality. Moreover, the law protects a patient’s data through a number of guidelines directly related to the daily workings of a physician. The human rights act also assures everyone of respect to their personal lives together with their homes and correspondence (The UK Ethics Network, n.d.).
An Explanation of Managerial Responsibilities
Physicians have a responsibility of using resources, supervising or leading teams and working in managed systems in various institutions. Practically, all practicing physicians act as managers in their respective capacities. Healthcare managers have the responsibility of raising concerns in public community risks only after they have done the same within their organizations without finding a solution. However, this does not absolve them of their responsibility of not breaching patient confidentiality.
Therefore, it is important that practitioners keep abreast with new ethical and legal requirements regarding patient confidentiality. Healthcare institutions have to manage patient confidentiality properly by using well-structured systems. The systems should follow the law requirements of storing, using and disclosing patient confidential information. Likewise, institutions need record managers with the adequate training needed to provide data protection.
These record managers do not work in isolation; they need adequate support and cooperation that will allow them to perform as required. Other than record managers, staff having access to patient records should also have a proficient training on discretion and decent record keeping (General Medical Council, 2006). Lastly, staff contracts need to state explicitly the importance of respecting and maintaining patient confidentiality.
Generally, a medical practitioner should listen to patients and respect their personal health views. In addition, patient’s descriptions handling should be serious and the feedback provided to the patient should be in an understandable way. When patients complain, they should receive a prompt answer form their physician.
Additionally, the answer should be frank and beneficial. A proper way to manage patient information would be to make timely reports for the organization, which may be shared with other relevant bodies. This ensures that any blame arising shifts away from the practitioner after the resolution of the case.
A possible solution to the students’ case of breaching patient confidentiality would be to introduce safeguards on Clinical Data Management (CDM) systems to prevent leak of information. The law needs amending to include harsh penalties even for student doctors as a way to instill the discipline of respecting patient confidentiality.
One major form, in which patient confidentiality breaches occur, is through negligence of other structures necessary for guaranteeing it. One such case is on patient privacy. When patient privacy structures have a poor implementation record in an institution, likely due to lack of dedicated resources, then patient confidentiality tends to suffer (Manning, n.d.).
In the students’ case, outlined in this essay, Leach (2009) reports that most of the medical schools covered in the study did not have any policy covering the use of blogging and social media networks online. This is an example of a case where the disregard of patient’s privacy has negative externalities to patient confidentiality.
If the medical schools had policies protecting patient privacy by restricting the use of online media and other channels of communication, then incidences of student breach of patient confidentiality would not be as high as reported. It is important to strengthen warnings against breach of patient confidentiality by having robust systems.
To sum up, patient confidentiality is a fundamental requirement of patient-physician relationships. Medical practitioners have an ethical and legal obligation to adhere to patient confidentiality. Each practitioner assumes managerial responsibilities for their departments, teams or institutions. Having a well-structured system allows these practitioners to fulfill their responsibilities easily.
General Medical Council. (2006). Management for doctors – guidance for doctors. Retrieved 4 July 2011, from http://www.gmc-uk.org/guidance/ethical_guidance/management_for_doctors.asp
Leach, B. (2009, September 24). ‘Tweeting’ breaches patient confidentiality. Retrieved 4 July 2011, from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/twitter/6225315/Tweeting-breaches-patient-confidentiality.html
Manning, W. L. (n.d.). Privacy and confidentiality in clinical data management systems: why you should guard the safe. Retrieved 4 July 2011, from http://www.netreach.net/~wmanning/cdm.htm