Working with doctors Working for patients

Maintaining patient confidentiality

  1. 56. All patients have a right to expect that their doctors will hold information about them in confidence. Confidentiality is central to trust between doctors and patients.
  2. 57. However, confidentiality is not absolute, and appropriate information sharing is essential to the efficient provision of safe, effective care. You’ll learn about this at medical school, but you need to be aware that you must never share confidential information about a patient with anyone who is not directly involved in their care without the patient’s permission.
  3. 58. Many improper disclosures are unintentional. You must not share identifiable information about a patient where you can be overheard, such as in a public place or on social media, or include it in any work or logbooks you submit (see below - Practical tip #9: Social media dos and don’ts). You must be clear about what confidential information a patient has agreed can be shared with friends and family before you discuss their care. You can find more information about when and how you can disclose personal information about patients – with their consent, where the law requires it and in the public interest – in the GMC’s guidance, Confidentiality.
  4. 59. You must also follow any policies of your medical school, university or placement provider to make sure personal information is stored and disposed of securely.

Practical tip #8: How does confidentiality apply to my placements?

It’s normal to want to talk about things you have seen on clinical placements with colleagues or friends. You’ll see unusual medical conditions and may be put in situations where patients experience adverse outcomes. But you must never disclose patient identifiable information without a patient’s consent (see Consent guidance: Sharing information and discussing treatment options para 8-9). If you’re not sure what to share if you’re asked to provide information for an inquiry or logbook, you should ask for advice before you disclose any information.

You should also make sure you never discuss patients in a public place or on social media. Even if you don’t mention a patient by name, there’s a chance that someone nearby (or online, if you’re on social media) might know whom you are talking about.

If you do want to talk to a colleague, friend or supervisor about what you have seen on a placement, you should only do that in a private place. And you shouldn’t mention the patient by name, except to a clinician directly involved in their care.

For more information, see the GMC’s guidance for registered doctors:

Practical tip #9: Social media dos and don’ts

Do:

  • check your privacy settings so you know who can see what on the platforms you use. But remember that social media sites cannot guarantee confidentiality whatever privacy settings you use
  • remember that the apps you use may link to your social media profile and that information from that site may be seen by users of the app
  • maintain boundaries by not engaging with patients or others about a patient’s care through your personal social media profiles or platforms. Instead, if appropriate, use a separate professional platform or profile to respond
  • remember that once information is published on social media sites you may not be able to control how it is used by others and it can be difficult to remove it from the internet or the site it was originally posted on
  • use social media to express your views, but don’t behave in a derogatory manner to other users and don’t post discriminatory content
  • think carefully about how others, particularly patients both present and future, might perceive your content.

Don’t:

  • share information about patients or post information that could identify a patient
  • misrepresent your skills or level of training to others
  • post complaints about your placement providers, medical school, teachers or trainers.