Confidentiality in Nursing Practice

Health care providers often deal with the issues that are related to requiring the personal information about the patient. Modern technologies used in the health care system, including electronic databases, give the specialists access to private information. Following ethical and legal rules is of vital importance for any primary caregiver eager to be recognized as a reputable and qualified specialist. The nurse browsing the records of the patients belonging to other units in the hospital without any serious purpose and without permission is doing an unethical action that contradicts official rules. She is supposed to use her confidential personal code that allows her to view the medical records of patients on her unit only in the case when she has a need to view these records for professional purposes. Using her power for other purposes and other units can be regarded as a severe violation of the patients’ right for confidentiality.

Ethical Side of the Issue

The ethical side of the issue is based on the main purpose of nursing practice – providing the highest quality of services aimed at promoting the patient’s well-being. The quality of services directly depends on the nurse’s knowledge of ethics of the profession. Every nurse eager to serve the patients’ needs should be orientated towards avoiding actions that put a threat to the patient’s satisfaction with the delivered medical services. Most patients are rather sensitive about sharing their confidential information about their health issues. Therefore, this information should be used only for medical purposes in cases when it can contribute to providing efficient diagnosing or successful treatment. American Nurses Association (ANA) states that health care workers should inform the patients in a written form about the cases of usage of their health records (American Nurses Association Position Statement, 2015, p. 2). Any usage of personal information, including browsing the records of the patients, should have a clear purpose related to direct duties of health care providers. Otherwise, such actions can be regarded as unethical and unacceptable.

Legal Side of the Issue

ANA emphasizes the importance of following the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) (American Nurses Association Position Statement, 2015, p. 2). HIPAA was first enacted in 1996 while the provisions regarding health care privacy were enacted in 2003 (McGowan, 2012, p. 61). These provisions are known as “the Privacy Rule”, as they protect individual health information. The cases suitable for legitimate disclosure of personal information are identified as sharing the information with the individual who is the subject of the information for treatment or payment, with opportunity to agree or object, for notification, or for public health and benefit activities (McGowan, 2012, p. 62). As the case discussed in this paper is not eligible to any of these points, it can be regarded as an illegal act. The person failing to protect patient’s information can become a subject of severe penalties.

Lack of privacy can have a bad impact on patients’ relationships with providers. Such situation inevitably affects the quality of care, as the unwillingness of patients to share private health information because of the previous negative experience can be an obstacle to providing appropriate treatment. Any nurse should be aware of the huge responsibility related to protecting patients’ confidentiality and avoiding violations of the corresponding rules.


American Nurses Association position statement on privacy and confidentiality. (2015). Web.

McGowan, C. (2012). Patients’ confidentiality. Critical Care Nurse, 32(5), 61-65.

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