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Opinion 5.059 - Privacy in the Context of Health Care

In the context of health care, emphasis has been given to confidentiality, which is defined as information told in confidence or imparted in secret. However, physicians also should be mindful of patient privacy, which encompasses information that is concealed from others outside of the patient-physician relationship.

Physicians must seek to protect patient privacy in all of its forms, including (1) physical, which focuses on individuals and their personal spaces, (2) informational, which involves specific personal data, (3) decisional, which focuses on personal choices, and (4) associational, which refers to family or other intimate relations. Such respect for patient privacy is a fundamental expression of patient autonomy and is a prerequisite to building the trust that is at the core of the patient-physician relationship.

Privacy is not absolute, and must be balanced with the need for the efficient provision of medical care and the availability of resources. Physicians should be aware of and respect the special concerns of their patients regarding privacy. Patients should be informed of any significant infringement on their privacy of which they may otherwise be unaware. (I, IV)

Issued June 2002 based on the report "Privacy in the Context of Health Care," adopted December 2001