What is Medical Confidentiality?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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Medical confidentiality is the practice within the medical profession by doctors and other health care providers to not reveal private or sensitive information about a patient to other people. This is typically a practice that is supported legally by statutes of a country or region as well as an ethical obligation that many doctors see as an essential aspect of health care professionalism. There are a number of exceptions that can be made to medical confidentiality in certain situations, however. These typically include gaining permission from a patient to share the records, transferring records to other medical professionals, and sharing information to prevent injury or death.

Sometimes referred to as doctor-patient privilege, medical confidentiality is one of the most common and well-known forms of legal confidentiality. Confidentiality typically refers to situations in which one person is privileged to sensitive information about another person, and this privilege is expected to be kept secret and private. Lawyers typically have similar confidentiality with clients, and many businesses often expect trade secrets to be confidential with employees and often enforce such policies through nondisclosure agreements. No secondary agreements are necessary to enforce or establish medical confidentiality, however; it is simply assumed to be effective at any time in which a patient is discussing medical matters with a health care professional.


Most practicing doctors, nurses, and other professionals in the medical industry consider medical confidentiality to be a sacrosanct aspect of their profession. It is typically seen as an ethical obligation that medical professionals have to their patients. Such confidentiality is fairly essential in order for patients to feel they can be honest with their doctors and receive proper care.

Many countries also have laws that support and enforce medical confidentiality. Doctors and other health care professionals who violate this privilege may find themselves open to civil lawsuits and professional censure. Doctors can be fined and potentially lose their licenses to practice medicine if such violations are proven against them.

There are certain exceptions to medical confidentiality, however, that allow a doctor to reveal private information about a patient. This can be done whenever a patient knowingly waives his or her right to confidentiality, often by signing a waiver or similar form. Doctors can also typically share information about a patient with other doctors who are seeing that patient, either through conversation or by a transfer of records. Medical confidentiality can also usually be broken in situations in which a health care professional believes that a patient may pose a serious threat to himself or herself, or to others, and in many countries a doctor is legally obligated to notify law enforcement of a serious threat of which he or she is aware.


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