July 13, 2004

How Far Should Confidentiality Extend?

Following the suicide of a 24-year-old mental health patient on the grounds of Calvary Hospital, the woman's family and the Canberra coroner are charging that the need to protect and care for a patient should override a patient's right to privacy. The woman's treating psychiatrist did not inform her parents that her diagnoses had been changed from bipolar disorder to schizo-affective disorder, "because of a need to protect patient confidentiality and maintain her dignity." They were also not informed by the hospital staff of their daughter's suicidal intentions.

Other concerns raised by the family in court included the lack of an adequate follow-up plan, at least one that they were informed about. According to the patient's father, his daughter waited six weeks after being discharged from the Calvary psychiatric unit before meeting for the first time with her treating psychiatrist.

There are currently forms for patients to designate certain people to whom medical and treatment information can be released; however, different measures may be necessary in the case of the mentally ill. One of the hallmarks of many mental disorders is poor insight of the patient into their own illness - because of this, they may decline to release diagnosis and treatment information to family members. Another problem is that many families are unaware of current confidentiality legislation, and the need for such a release form.

For the full news story, see the Canberra Times (http://canberra.yourguid.com.au).
Article: "Protection Ahead of Confidentiality" (July 9, 2004).

For further opinions about changing confidentiality and commitment laws in the mental health care system, see 'Getting more say: families want laws changed in mental health system.' (available at www.psychlaws.org).

To read about individual state legislation involving patient confidentiality, commitment criteria, and other legal issues related to the mentally ill, see 'Legal Resources' at www.psychlaws.org.


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