Editorials

Disclosure and use of personal health information

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7032.653 (Published 16 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:653
  1. Beverly Woodward
  1. Research associate in philosophy and sociology Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02234-9110, USA

    Widespread access is likely to erode patient confidentiality

    Lord Walton's Disclosure and Use of Personal Health Information Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords this week. The bill illustrates the difficulty of legislating in the subject of medical confidentiality. The basic principle of medical confidentiality is simply stated: “patients have a right to expect that you will not pass on any personal information which you learn in the course of your professional duties, unless they agree.”1 Difficulties arise when there is an attempt to list the exceptions to this simple principle. The focus then tends to shift from protecting the patient's right to confidentiality and providing the patient with strong tools for preserving confidentiality to licensing disclosure and providing health professionals, medical researchers, and the police with permission to gain access to personal health information in a wide variety of circumstances.

    A right which is easily …

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