There is one month left to give us your views on our confidentiality guidance. Here Fionnula Flannery, a Policy Manager in our Standards and Ethics Team, explains why we are reviewing the guidance, and how you can get involved.

All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal– Hippocrates, 4th century BC

It is nearly two and a half thousand years since Hippocrates introduced the concept of patient confidentiality. But his words are as relevant today as they ever were – they articulate a value that is deeply held by doctors and patients alike.

One of the most challenging decisions

Determining what should be ‘spread abroad’ is one of the most challenging decisions doctors regularly have to make. Decisions on whether to share information in the public interest – for example, if a patient has a serious communicable disease or where a child or young person may be at risk of abuse – are not to be taken lightly. But doctors face situations like these every day.

So it will come as no surprise that Confidentiality is one of the most frequently viewed pieces of guidance on our website and that issues around confidentiality consistently top the list of enquiries we get from doctors. The emails, letters and phone calls we receive show, not only how seriously doctors and patients take confidentiality, but also how genuinely difficult it can be to weigh up competing interests and to reach a decision.

Confidentiality guidance covers
Confidentiality is one of the most frequently viewed pieces of guidance on our website and issues around confidentiality consistently top the list of enquiries we get from doctors

Our guidance is designed to help doctors make decisions that not only respect patients’ privacy, autonomy and choices, but also benefit the wider community. So it is vital that it remains relevant, up to date and useful to doctors. Over the coming year we will be reviewing Confidentiality, along with seven pieces of related explanatory guidance covering a range of topics including reporting concerns to the DVLA, sharing information about gunshot and knife wounds, and responding to criticism in the press.

Survey and questionnaires

We would like to know what doctors, patients and others think of the content and format of the current guidance, and how we could improve it.

To gather views on the guidance we have published three questionnaires: for doctors, patients and health and care organisations.

Some of the things we want to know are:

  • whether there is anything missing from the guidance
  • if the guidance is accurate and clear
  • if the guidance is consistent with the law
  • if we strike the right balance between protecting and sharing patient information

We are also running a short survey of doctors to get their opinion on how we could improve the guidance.

The views and information we gather will help us make any necessary updates to our guidance – so let us know what you think. We will also be working with a range of experts and partners to make sure we have got it right. In 2015 we will then consult on the changes we have made, to make sure doctors find the updated version useful and accurate.

The survey and questionnaires on our confidentiality guidance are open until 9 January 2015 so do tell us what you think.

Fionnula Flannery - headshotFionnula Flannery is a Policy Manager in the Standards and Ethics Team at the General Medical Council