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Throughout this information remember when they are talking about a patient, it is the same as talking about your clients.

“Robust patient privacy and confidentiality are a fundamental part of the Australian healthcare system.

In the context of healthcare, confidentiality is referred to as the non-disclosure of information received by medical practitioners in the course of their relationship with patients. This includes health professionals such as doctors, but also administration staff who will be handling sensitive forms and other intelligence. Essentially, any information given by a patient must not be passed to a third party either intentionally or non intentionally.

This also applies to Mentors, as we are dealing with private and confidential information that is relayed to us within the context of assisting our clients through the access request and planning stages of the NDIS.

Patient confidentiality is often seen as an ethical obligation for medical staff, but in Australia a breach of confidence is also recognised as a crime in common law.

Why is it so important to protect patient confidentiality?

Patient confidentiality is an essential part of maintaining the integrity of the medical sector and should be followed for the below reasons:

  • Trust: Medicine is all about trust. Patients disclose very personal information to those in the healthcare industry in the faith that it will only be used to help them. Without trust,  people will be less likely to seek help when they need it, resulting in an increased level of illness in the community
  • Digital hacking: Most patient information is now kept digitally which, while convenient, increases the risk of hacks (the number of reported attacks on health care information has increased by 125% since 2010, according to the Ponemon Institute’s Fifth Annual Study). Losing this information can lead to events of identity theft and fraud which have the potential to damage patients’ lives and livelihoods
  • Legal disciplinary action: Data breaches and failure to uphold patient confidentiality can result in everything from fines to prison sentences for those responsible. It is best for the profession and those working in it to uphold this ethical responsibility

Are there any situations where confidentiality can be breached?

The straightforward answer is yes. In some special circumstances it is legally acceptable and necessary to breach patient confidentiality. There are many complex situations that could result in the need for private patient information to be shared, but the most common are:

  • Legal requirements: Certain instances must be reported to authorities regardless of whether they reveal personal information. For example, suspected child abuse, reporting cause of death and informing authorities of the spread of certain infectious diseases
  • Implied or express consent: In specific circumstances, individuals’ medical records can be shared with appropriate guardians. This is often the case for dependant children and also adults who require extensive care. Carers can request this information
  • On the grounds of public interest: This is a tricky one as there are no clear definitions around when this would apply. In general, it refers to a situation where withholding certain information presents the real risk of danger to an individual or the public at large. This could be a threat to national security or where a medical practitioner has reasonable grounds to think that a patient means to seriously harm another”