Patient confidentiality and safety: a classic conundrum

Paul Vigar
Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Paramedics frequently have to balance patient confidentiality and patient safety. Patient information is subject to legal, ethical and professional obligations of confidentiality and should not be disclosed to a third party for reasons other than healthcare, without consent. Whilst there is an imperative to preserve the professional/patient relationship, there are occasions where this is not possible. This article considers circumstances when confidential patient information may be disclosed without the consent of the patient and discusses the legal, ethical and professional aspects of decision making in this context. A clinical example from practice is presented where an ambulance crew was called to a 50-year-old man with type I diabetes, which is normally well controlled with insulin. He is employed as a van driver, but has experienced two sudden hypoglycaemic episodes in 3 weeks rendering him unconscious. Once treated, he declines transport to hospital, any onward referral or to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) through fear of having his driving licence suspended.

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