Ethics Week Keeps it Confidential

Bermuda Hospitals Board is focusing on the issue of confidentiality for Ethics Week, which runs for a week from Monday 1 November 2010. The public are invited to visit either the KEMH or MWI lobbies on Monday 1 November from 9.30am to 11.00am to find out about what steps they can take to protect their confidential health care information and also about the specific BHB policies that are in place that might impact them.

The theme of the week is ‘Who Needs To Know What?” and will focus on the protection of information and the duty of confidentiality that covers all BHB staff members, volunteers, students and physicians.
All BHB employees are required to sign confidentiality agreements when hired and there is potential disciplinary action for any breaches. However, patients and their families often do not realise the role they have to play in keeping information private as well. This can include requesting to see an BHB employee’s photo ID before divulging confidential information and not using general email accounts to transmit medical information.

Dr Elaine Campbell, Chair of the Ethics Committee comments: “A person’s medical information is confidential to them. As an organisation we cannot release it to anyone except the person using our services, unless that individual has given written permission that another can have it. This pertains to medical records, as well as verbal requests for information. This can sometimes cause concern if a family member asks about someone in our care, but unless a patient or service user gives permission to answer, our first duty is to protect that person’s confidentiality. BHB employees cannot therefore respond to phone calls from unknown people requesting updates about a patient or service user’s clinical progress, unless permission has been granted by the individual concerned.”

The only exception to the duty of confidentiality without consent relates to the very rare cases where someone could be put at risk if information is withheld. This could include self-harm, actual or threatened serious acts of violence or the protection of public safety.
Dr Chantelle Simmons, Chair of the Ethics Educational Sub-Committee adds: “It is becoming increasingly common for patients or their families to email healthcare professionals regarding their care. However, general emails could be accessed by third parties or by someone actually accessing a patient’s home computer. Our advice is to speak to your healthcare professional directly by phone or make an appointment. We also advise patients and services users that it is their right to verify who is asking them for confidential health information within BHB, for example by asking to see a photo ID.”

BHB’s confidentiality policy extends to verbal communication, written data, computer storage of information, disposal of confidential information and internal/external mail. Personal health care information can be disclosed on a need-to-know basis to clinicians who are involved in the patient or service user’s treatment and require the information for clinical reasons.

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