Confidentiality is a core element of human relationships. Patients pass on sensitive information to healthcare professionals in relation to their health and perhaps other issues. Information is passed on in confidence with the expectation that the healthcare professional will respect their privacy. Confidentiality extends to all forms of patient records, electronic patient information and social media. Research has established that within the healthcare setting, once the patient has given consent to one healthcare professional directly caring for them, patients are happy for this information to be shared as appropriate between the healthcare team. Healthcare professionals have a duty to uphold confidence but there will be occasions information will have to be disclosed to others. If information has to be passed on to a third party, it must be done so with the consent of the patient.

Please view Dr Eimear Spain’s video titled: How to address requests from family members for information on patients



  1. Define confidentiality
  2. Write down why you think it is necessary for healthcare professionals to be subject to a legal, professional and contractual duty of confidence to their patients?
  3. Review your discipline specific Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics and identify key statements that ensure you practice confidentially.
  4. List the exceptions that would allow you to disclose information about a patient
  5. From your clinical experience can you give an example of an occasion where a patient’s confidentiality was undermined
  6. Write down examples of breeches of confidentiality that may arise in today’s contemporary society


Further Learning

Dr Spain now discusses the importance of not disclosing information to a third party including friends and relatives without first gaining the informed consent of the patient.

She reminds us of the 3 exceptions to this rule which are

                A high level threat to the patient

                A high level of threat to the public

                When there is a legal obligation to do so

Remember that the bar is set high and that the general rule is to gain the consent of the patient before 3rd party disclosure.




Griffith, R. (2015) Patient information: confidentiality and the electronic record. British Journal of Nursing, 24(17), 894-895.

Niveau, G., Burkhardt, S. & Chiesa, S. (2013) Medical confidentiality and the competent patient. Journal of medical ethics, 39(11).

Medical Council (2009) Guide to professional conduct and ethics for registered medical practitioners. Medical Council, Dublin; Ireland

NMBI (2014) Code of professional conduct and ethics for registered nurses and midwives. Dublin; Ireland

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (2009) Code of professional conduct for pharmacists. The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, Dublin; Ireland.