Patient confidentiality and consent to publication

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1572 (Published 10 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1572
  1. Jane Smith, deputy editor
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. jsmith{at}bmj.com

    Protection for individuals makes it harder for doctors to share information

    In medicine stories about individual people are important. Knowledge emerges from cases and ethical questions are explored through them, which is why medical journals have traditionally published them.

    Once doctors just wrote up their cases and sent them to journals and that was it. Now they know that they need to get the patient’s consent before doing so.1 But sometimes the authors can’t trace the patient to ask for consent, and sometimes they don’t want to ask the patient. This week, Isaacs and colleagues describe the events surrounding a case report that they submitted to the BMJ two years ago.2 We declined to publish it because they did not have consent, but they argue that consent would have been difficult to obtain without jeopardising the clinical relationship with the parents, and that the public interest over-rides the need for consent. The case report was published in an Australasian journal,3 and we also publish commentaries from the editor of that journal explaining why he published it4 …

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