Respect for “Privacy of Patients” and “Confidentiality of Information” is the Duty of Doctor

In good faith, the patient shares his problems and feelings, personal and private and submits his/her body to the examination by the doctor without any reservations. It is the moral duty of the doctor that his etiquette and conduct, talk and touch, are as dignified and delicate as possible.

A doctor must ensure full privacy during his professional interaction with the patient. While examining the patient, the privacy must be protected by a proper screen. If a female patient is being examined, another female—nurse, aya or attendant must be present.

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No other person, especially trainees, may be allowed without the patient’s express permission.

Any unnecessary touch, any unwarranted exposure should be avoided. Doctor’s profession is such and his contact with the patient is often so close that there is sometimes, a danger of it being perceived as undesirable advances.

The doctor must ensure that he never, even unintentionally, crosses the limits of decency and propriety. At no stage should he let the patient feel that the doctor’s intensions are not honorable.

2. Confidentiality of Information:

Any information about a patient that a doctor becomes privy to in pursuance of doctor- patient relationship is privileged information as per the Hippocratic Oath, Declaration of Geneva as well as Section 7.14 of the MCI Regulations 2002.

It is of utmost importance that the doctor ensures confidentiality of all the information about patient’s illness and treatment and never violates the sacred understanding (unwritten) between self and the patient.

The information should not be discussed even with other doctors not involved with the treatment of that patient.

The information related to patient may be used for the purpose of medical education and research without disclosing, in any manner, the identity of patient (impersonal information).

However, information along with patient identification (personal information), whether verbal or in the form of case file, cannot be disclosed, even for education/research, without express permission of the patient.

Disclosure of privileged communication is an actionable civil offence and the doctor is liable under the Law of Privileged Communication.

3. Situations where Disclosure of Privileged Communication is not an Offence:

i. Under the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, where these records are treated as documentary evidence required to be produced by a witness in the court—as evidence in a court of law under the orders of the Presiding Judge.

ii. In the matters of greater public interest.

iii. For submitting periodic reports to government authorities such as under the MTP Act and PNDT Act.

iv. For notification of diseases under Notifiable Diseases Act.

v. When required by the Life insurance corporation of India (LIC) or other Medical insurance providers because the patient has already issued a waiver of his privilege (of confidentiality) at the time of taking the policy by signing a declaration to this effect.

vi. For proving the validity of the patients “Will” by deciding about the mental fitness of the patient at the time of writing the “Will”.