Back in 2016, there was a story in the media where a certain emergency room was charged with sharing private information which was considered as confidential. The specific physician who shared the information to a third party, had his license revoked and is currently facing jail time. The arrest and closure of the emergency room sparked rumors online that emergency rooms share confidential patient information and that some of the emergency rooms were using the information to blackmail patients and soliciting bribes from them. This is why we want to address the issue of confidentiality in emergency rooms today.
We want to take a quick look at the definition of confidentiality, some of the principles of confidentiality and determine whether emergency room visits are public records. To help us understand the subject better, we talked to one of our own physician here at Bellaire who has lots of years of experience and it best placed to answer the question. Here is what the experienced professional had to say;
General practitioners confidentiality
Without confidentiality, it would practically be impossible for patients to trust doctors with their private life and medical conditions. Confidentiality is a fundamental principle of medical ethics and is central to maintaining trust between patients and doctors. Confidentiality is an obligation not just to emergency room doctors but all general practitioners and they are not allowed to deliberately give out information on a patient to a third party without consent. This means that all the medical and personal information given to a medical practitioner by a patient remains strictly between the two parties unless the patient gives consent to the doctor to share the information out to a third party.
Without the assurance that whatever goes on whenever you visit an emergency room will be kept confidential, a lot patients and people would not go to emergency rooms. People suffering from the diseases and infections regarded by society as shameful such as STIs would never come out clean on their problems and this would be detrimental in that very many people would end up losing their lives without receiving the medical attention they need.
Physicians, when undergoing training, are taught to accept situations and patients’ medical conditions without being judgmental. Irrespective of the magnitude or nature of someone’s medical condition, medical practitioners are prohibited from sharing any form of information to a third party without the consent of the patient.
Sharing of information includes sharing the records of the patients’ visits. This is answers the question of whether patients’ records in emergency rooms are public. To better understand confidentiality in the emergency room and the medical scene at large, here are the 4 principles of confidentiality that govern the operation of general medical practitioners;
Only disclose with the patient’s consent
In some circumstances, the doctor or emergency room physician is allowed to disclose the medical information to another party if the patient gives their consent. This is only applicable if the patient is in a capacity to make his/her own decisions about their healthcare. Unless the patient is in a state where they cannot make their own healthcare decisions and failure to disclose the information would put the patient at risk, the doctor should not disclose the information to the relatives, close friends or any other third party without consent.
Situations where one can disclose without the patient’s consent.
There are some times when the general practitioner is mandated to disclose a patient’s information by law or in the public interest. A good example is where a doctor holds reasonable belief that a crime involving a sexual assault has been committed against a minor or a vulnerable individual. Disclosure in public interest must be made to protect the victim. The doctor’s only needs to be absolutely sure about the information and its accuracy in relation to the case before disclosing it. In such a scenario still, the doctor is required to disclose the information to the minimum number of people necessary.
3. Medical reports and recordings
Did you know that an emergency room is only allowed to prepare a medical report on a patient only if the patient gives consent? This means that the doctor cannot give the information out to a third part even if it is your employer without your consent. Just like medical reports, recordings made by a doctor during an emergency room visit cannot be shared without the patient’s consent. This applies to audio and visual recordings or any other images of the patient.
What to do in case of breach of confidentiality?
If during your visits to the emergency room your doctor deliberately or accidentally shares your confidential information, what should you do? Well, you can sue the medical practitioner and the facility at large for breaching confidentiality and sharing your personal information. Their license will be suspended, they will compensate you and if need be they will serve some jail time.
There you have it now. Emergency room visits are not public records and will only be accessed by the public if the law requires them to be. You can therefore always confide in emergency rooms and trust them to keep your information safe from third parties. Competent emergencies rooms like us here at Bellaire always value their customers and will always strive hard to ensure that all the relevant records are kept private and confidential.