The secret spillers

Two registrars working at the same hospital often confer with each other regarding patients in which they were involved. One day, they met in the lift and discussed the details of one of the patients. The conversation went as follows:

Dr V: “Have you seen Mrs X’s foot?”

Dr D: “Yes, isn’t it gross?”

Dr V: “It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have such horrendous ulceration – they’re going to have to chop it off.”

Dr D: “I know – it’s just so revolting… poor old thing – still – I guess the fact that she has dementia will probably help… she probably won’t remember a thing about it! Ha ha!”

There was another person in the lift with them that day, Mrs X’s husband. He was furious that such a casual, disrespectful conversation had occurred and reported the Drs to hospital management. The report included a complaint about “confidential and personal medical information apparently being available to people who had no understanding or respect for patients and their privacy.”

After contacting MIPS

The doctors provided a written explanation with full disclosure and apology to the hospital and a commitment to undertake further targeted education. They also provided a written apology for the patient’s family.

MIPS reminded the doctors that there is a need for privacy and confidentiality about an individual’s healthcare.

Key messages

  • The Medical Board Code of Conduct is clear about patient privacy and confidentiality. It states: Patients have a right to expect that practitioners and hospital staff will hold information about them in confidence.
  • Health practitioners need to treat information about patients as confidential. A breach of confidentiality can lead to hospital or Medical Board punitive action. Unfortunately, this happens often, and doctors have their employment terminated for breach of privacy.
  • Read the hospital policy on privacy and confidentiality.
Disclaimer: The materials provided are for educational purposes only. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken in preparing these materials, including the accuracy of the information supplied, MIPS does not accept any liability whatsoever arising out of the use or reliance of the information provided.

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