The maintenance of confidentiality in primary care: a survey of policies and procedures

AIDS Care. 2001 Apr;13(2):251-6. doi: 10.1080/09540120020018251.


We investigated policies and procedures for the maintenance of confidentiality in primary care by means of a postal survey of 109 general practices in a large non-metropolitan urban health authority in England. The response rate was 61%. Practices believed a variety of staff should be informed if a patient was HIV-positive, ranging from 'patient's own GP' (100%) to 'clerical staff' (8%). In 88% of practices receptionists occasionally or normally asked patients why they wished to see a doctor, although in 76% such conversations were audible to other patients. Ninety-nine per cent claimed to have a policy on confidentiality, although it existed in writing in 62% and was publicized in only 27%. In 88% of practices non-clinical staff had access to written patient records. Ninety-three per cent provided staff training in confidentiality, but in 34% it was confined to induction. Almost all practices had taken some steps to safeguard confidentiality, but few had explicit, formal confidentiality policies. Information sharing and non-clinical staff access to medical records were extensive, and few practices communicated their arrangements to patients. Practices need to review their policies and procedures for the maintenance of confidentiality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality*
  • Data Collection
  • England
  • HIV Infections*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Policy*
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*