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Routine referral letters share clinical data without patients’ consent

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 04 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2419
  1. Kate Adams, general practitioner and journalist, London
  1. kateadams{at}

Doctors may be sharing too much sensitive information about patients unnecessarily, writes Kate Adams, and patients often don’t even know that this happens, let alone give informed consent

At a recent round table organised by the UK charity the National AIDS Trust on confidentiality and HIV, a patient described her experiences.1 She had been referred to a dermatologist by her general practitioner, and before the consultation a clinic nurse asked her how she had become infected with HIV. The patient had no idea that her HIV status would be shared but far worse for her was that she thought she was being judged because she interpreted the nurse’s comment as, “How has a nice girl like you managed to acquire HIV?”

Others shared experiences of discriminatory behaviour. People had seen healthcare professionals double gloving for minor surgical procedures. In another case, a surgeon had refused to operate on a person with HIV. Having HIV can mean being treated differently.

The consensus at the meeting was that there needn’t be a problem with primary and secondary care doctors directly involved in the provision of care sharing a patient’s HIV status; the problem was how some healthcare professionals stigmatise patients with HIV.

Relevant …

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