Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Whose secret is it anyway?

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 15 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1300
  1. Gwen Adshead, locum consultant forensic psychotherapist and forensic psychiatrista
  1. a Broadmoor Hospital

    Why is there a duty to keep confidences? Most commentators claim that if doctors did not have such a duty, patients would not trust their doctors with clinically relevant material, and this would have bad consequences. There is nothing about the duty of confidentiality which implies absolute secrecy; it is a commitment to treating the patient's information with respect. Privacy might be a better word than confidentiality, so that patients are protected from gossip (usually by health care professionals).

    Confidentiality is not an absolute principle, as the established exemptions make clear. Harm to others …

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