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Protection of patients' rights to privacy

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 11 November 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1272
  1. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors
  1. Correspondence to: Ms Kathy Case, Annals of Internal Medicine, American College of Physicians, Sixth Street at Race, Philadelphia, PA 19106-1572, USA.

    The following statement was agreed by the International Committee of Medical Journal editors (the Vancouver Group) at its meeting last week in San Francisco. It is a complete revision of the initial guidelines on this subject issued in 1991.

    Patients have rights to privacy that should not be infringed without informed consent. Identifying information should not be published in written descriptions, photographs, or pedigrees unless the information is essential for scientific purposes and the patient (or parent or guardian) gives written informed consent for publication. Informed consent for this purpose requires that the patient should be shown the manuscript to be published.

    Identifying details should be omitted if they are not essential, but patient data should never be altered or falsified in an attempt to attain anonymity. Complete anonymity is difficult to achieve, and informed consent should be obtained if there is any doubt. For example, masking of the eye region in photographs of patients is inadequate protection of anonymity.

    The requirement for informed consent should be included in the journal's instructions for authors. When informed consent has been obtained it should be indicated in the published article.

    Members of the committee are: Frank Davidoff (Annals of Internal Medicine), Richard Smith (BMJ), Bruce P Squires (Canadian Medical Association Journal), George Lundberg, Richard Glass (JAMA), Richard Horton (Lancet), Martin Van Der Weyden (Medical Journal of Australia), Robert Utiger (New England Journal of Medicine), Richard G Robinson (New Zealand Medical Journal), Magne Nylenna (Tidsskrift for den Norske Laegeforening), Linda Clever (Western Medical Journal), Lois Ann colaianni (National Library of Medicine).