Importance of Confidentiality in Nursing

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Importance of Confidentiality in Nursing
Patients expect their private details to be kept private. (Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Patient privacy is important in the field of medicine, and nurses are frequently the ones to maintain it. Maintenance of confidentiality affects most aspects of nursing, including record-keeping, discussing the medical issues of patients with others, and the manner in which nurses interact with the patients themselves.

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Medical Confidentiality

Confidentiality means that nurses and doctors should only discuss the medical condition and issues of a patient when there is a valid reason for doing so. Nurses who are working with the same patient have not only the right but the necessity to discuss that person's personal issues, but this right doesn't extend to other nurses who are not involved with that patient. For both personal and practical reasons, most patients do not want their personal details being shared with any more people than necessary for their effective medical treatment.

Confidentiality at Work

Hospitals are busy and sometimes hectic places, and it is easy to infringe on the privacy needs of a patient without intending to. This can occur through acts as simple as discussing medical details in too loud a voice or allowing the wrong people to enter a room during an examination. Hospital patients are often in a vulnerable position, and frequently already dealing with being sick or injured. When a staff member disrespects their confidentiality, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it can be upsetting.

Confidentiality Outside Work

There is little grey area surrounding the issue of patient confidentiality outside a medical setting. Nurses have no reason to be discussing their patients' issues outside of work, and therefore should not be doing so. Failure to abide by this rule could lead to embarrassing situations in which people learn private details about others. In extreme situations, a medical professional could even be held legally liable for breach of confidentiality regulations if their disclosure of private facts led to difficulties for the patient.


A common difficulty for people with serious diseases is finding health insurance. Insurance companies are hesitant to accept clients with pre-existing conditions. If a patient's condition became public knowledge because of breach of confidentiality by a nurse, the patient could have trouble acquiring medical coverage in the future. Less concrete but just as serious difficulties can befall patients who are dealing with conditions subject to social censure such as AIDS. Even when their medical conditions are not serious, patients have the right to keep this information to themselves, and nurses have the responsibility to help them to do this.

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