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Health care workers inadvertently and frequently compromise patient privacy, according to a new report. Researchers found that most breaches of patient confidentiality occurred within the health care organization.

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Researchers defined a breach of confidentiality as any communication of patient information involving unauthorized people, including anyone who didn't have the patient's overt or implied permission.


Researchers based their findings on interviews with 51 patients and their observations of health care providers. Most (81%) of the confidentiality breaches they identified occurred in the health care setting. These breaches occurred during informal conversations among health care providers, during telephone calls between providers, and in conversation between a provider and a patient. The remaining breaches involved conversations with family, friends, or others outside the health care organization.


Researchers say health care providers need to be more aware of when and where they're communicating confidential patient information, especially during routine activities. Considered a fundamental patient right, patient confidentiality is mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.




"Toward a Typology of Confidentiality Breaches in Health Care Communication: An Ethic of Care Analysis of Provider Practices and Patient Perceptions," Health Communication, M. Brann and M. Mattson, Spring 2004.