Since Hippocrates, confidentiality has been presented as one of the cornerstones of ethics in healthcare. Confidentiality roots back to respect for autonomy and self-control on the information. Respecting patient confidentiality and privacy are considered as the patients’ rights. Confidentiality is the key virtue of trust-building in the physician-patient relationship.
In healthcare settings, patient’s information should be kept confidential in the professional relationship. A patient may share confidential information (stressful, embarrassing, and harmful) with the physician needed to get an accurate diagnosis. This means that there should be mutual trust between the two; especially when encountered in a mentally disordered case.
Now, electronic media and newspapers are one of the daily needs of our lives. They educate us in various ways in our day-to-day lives. We are dependent on social media for technology dazzles with the allure of possibilities and positive potentials. However, ethical considerations about data privacy are at stake with the rising pressure on media for popularity and TRPs.
The Privacy Rule of the U.S. in effect from 2003 levies heavy fines and potential criminal charges on unauthorized individual health information disclosure. Termed as, “Protected Health Information”, this applies to health information in oral, paper, or electronic forums. In India, the Information Technology Rules (IT-Rules) was enacted in 2011 as Reasonable Security Practices and Sensitive Personal Data or Information.
The strengthening of India’s data protection law has been an inevitable step towards the right direction and the IT Rules introduced in 2011 define, ‘sensitive personal data’ where a body corporate collecting sensitive personal data should obtain lawful written consent from the provider. The body should make sure that the data provider/patient is aware of the fact that such information is being collected and further reasons why such information is being collected. So there is always the prospect of protecting the patient’s privacy and understanding the importance of confidentiality both in Medical as well as IT Forums.
Now the question arises, “Why we are talking about the ethics of Patient’s confidentiality and IT Rules related to patient consent as well?” We all are facing COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, I came across many news channels and papers bringing the names of the patients upfront without their knowledge. That is one of the reasons why I thought of writing about my opinion on this aspect for in my almost ten years of work in close relationship with patients, I have always tried to maintain this confidentiality.
It is important to understand that besides the healthcare professionals communicating directly with patients, writing about them with disclosure of their private lives on social media sites or blogs without their consent is unethical. Additional ethical consideration is required from the patients if one needs to write about them or mention them in some electronic media or in black and white media.
COVID-19 and the current lockdown situation has created more effect on the mental health of every person in every corner of the country in one way or another, either financially, mentally or physically. The people are in the fear of death with uncertainty to the future giving them more anxiety. At this moment, instead of advertising the horrific lives of the patients and their suffering, there should be more scientific inclusions to make them come out of these situations. These are one of the most difficult times for all of us as we hear about the spread of COVID-19 from all over the world, through social media, newspapers, television, and other resources. The most common emotion faced is FEAR followed by ANXIETY and PANIC ATTACKS.
A previous survey during 2013 showed that many times social media may lead to (mis)information overload, which in turn may cause mental health problems. World Health Organization (WHO) also has pointed out that too much social media may fuel stigma, which is one of the underlying drivers of fear and anxiety. We need to understand that bringing these patients or the sufferers to highlight their identities can give rise to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can be a great threat to their after-lockdown life.
This outbreak had caused mental health problems amongst the public of China, Japan, medical workers of Wuhan, and there are even increasing mental health cases in India as well. Hence, we need to understand that as a culture, we have been seduced by technology but we must be aware of how much our privacy has been taken for granted and the post-COVID life of all of us shall be at stake if these are not taken into important consideration. Henceforth, it is very important for the next implication to combat with, “infodemic” by monitoring and filtering the unrequired information which can be a threat to the personal life of anyone including patient and public, and to promote accurate information through cross-sectional collaborations.
This post was originally published in Assam Times.