HIV confidentiality





HIV confidentiality


Medical information is perhaps the most sensitive information that individuals share with doctors and nurses outside their immediate families. It is, therefore, no wonder that hospital staff take an oath that requires them to maintain confidentiality. They should not reveal the medical information of a patient to any other person. It gives patients the capacity to obtain medical care without unwarranted embarrassing and damaging disclosure of their medical information or the fear of betrayal. Medical confidentiality obligation touching on patient information and records lies not only with the physicians but also the hospitals. Since HIV infections are associated with drug use and sexual activities, which are universally regarded as sensitive and personal activities, the patients would like to maintain confidentiality of their health. In addition, HIV/AIDS comes with stigma from the public. It is, therefore, understandable why provisions pertaining to accessing HIV-related information are made only in limited occasions, usually when public health is threatened. Courts play a significant role in interpretation of the laws as well as the applicability of concepts pertaining to physician confidentiality in HIV-AIDS settings. One court case, in which a medical facility was held liable of breaching confidentiality pertaining to HIV status, involved a New Jersey otolaryngologist.

The otolaryngologist had been admitted to a local hospital where he had been diagnosed with pneumonia. A blood test showed he was HIV positive, findings that were previously unsuspected by the treating physician and the patient. While the treating physician took measures to maintain confidentiality, the patient received calls at home from fellow physicians, none of whom had been involved in providing him medical care. All indicated that they were privy to his condition. Within a short time, several people in the broader community showed that they were privy to his condition. Consequently, the otolaryngologist was socially ostracized and had his medical practice contracted.

Consequently, the otolaryngologist sued the treating physicians and the medical center for breach of confidentiality. While it was impossible to identify the size of information disclosure, he alleged that the spread of information pertaining to his health indicated that the defendants did not reasonably restrict access to the test results. On their part, the defendants held that they were not liable for disclosures made by employees or even other people beyond their control.

The court, however, ruled in the otolaryngologist’s favor, holding the defendants liable for the disclosure of his HIV status. It was evident that the medical facility had disregarded the importance of safeguarding the patient’s confidentiality. It was established that the plaintiff’s hospital chart gave the results of bronchoscopy as well as HIV test results, which amounted to a definitive AIDS diagnosis. While the hospital argued that the physicians decide whether to make a chart, the easy access to the charts as well as the deficiency of policies to limit access resulted in breach of confidentiality. Having in mind that the medical facility knew the consequences of such accessibility, it should have put in place reasonable measures necessary for safeguarding the confidentiality.


Safeguarding confidentiality of health information is extremely crucial in health facilities. This is especially having in mind that the information is perhaps the most sensitive to any individual. In cases where such information is disclosed, the treating physicians may be liable of breaching confidentiality if they did not take the appropriate measures to safeguard the information.

Works cited

Savkar S, Waters RJ. Telemedicine: implications for patient confidentiality and privacy. In:. New York: Faulkner & Gray, 1996