Confidentiality: What is it?

Key Points:

Health care service providers (doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, sexual health nurses etc) are bound ethically to respect the confidentiality of their clients. That is, they cannot lawfully tell someone else anything about your health and wellbeing (excepting in the three cases listed below) without your permission.

Breaches of confidentiality: that is where a health professional does tell someone else something that you have shared with them in consultation, without your permission, can be reported to the service's management and Medical Practitioner's Board of Australia AHPRA. The board has the power to take action against the wrong doer.

Client permission is required before any service provider (health professional) can make reports to other health professionals, family members etc. unless the circumstances require the professional to act according to their mandate (instructions written in law).

Doctors, Teachers, Nurses and Police Officers are all mandated, by law, to protect young people from abuse. Physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuses are all reportable acts. Health professionals are mandated to prevent abuse from going unreported. If they suspect or become aware that a young person is in danger of any physical, psychological or emotional abuse, they must make a report to the Department of Human Services. This would, in most usual circumstances, happen in consultation with yourself, but it can be done without your permission if need be.

Health professionals also need to act ethically if they believe the young person is in danger of doing harm to themselves or to someone else in the cases of suicidal (killing self) or homicidal (killing others) thoughts.

The three reasons confidentiality can be broken, in order to keep you safe, are:

  • Danger to self
  • Danger to others
  • Others are a danger to you.