The emergency physician and patient confidentiality: a review

Ann Emerg Med. 1994 Dec;24(6):1161-7. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(94)70249-7.


Confidentiality is a promise rooted in tradition, law, and medical ethics. Emergency physicians treat a variety of patients to whom confidentiality is of vital importance: employees, celebrities, victims of violence or disaster, minors, students, criminals, drug abusers, and patients with STDs. EDs should develop methods of ensuring confidentiality for all patients. Although confidentiality is an important principle that should be respected and guarded, it is not absolute. Various laws mandate disclosure of certain patient information; in addition, an overriding moral duty may occasionally require a breach of confidentiality. As Beauchamp and Childress noted, "the therapeutic role may sometimes have to yield to one's role as citizen and as protector of the interests of others." In general, however, circumstances requiring a breach of confidentiality are rare.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Confidentiality* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Disclosure*
  • Emergency Medicine / standards*
  • Ethics, Medical / history
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Mass Media
  • Medical Records
  • Minors
  • Moral Obligations
  • Parental Consent
  • Parental Notification
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Student Health Services
  • Substance Abuse Detection
  • Trust
  • United States