Patient Confidentiality Versus Disease Prevention Reviewed
Preventing significant risk of disease in relatives may justify change in law
MONDAY, Mar. 9 (HealthDay News) -- The morality of patient confidentiality laws are questioned in recent research presented in a special report in the March issue of The Lancet Oncology.
In the report, Adrian Burton writes about a study in which relatives of patients with BRCA mutations were informed of this information, and given the suggestion to undergo genetic testing to see if they were also carriers of the mutation. The number of individuals who underwent genetic testing was 56 percent, compared with 36 percent of individuals who underwent testing when it was left to their relatives to inform them of the genetic information.
Although current law in the United Kingdom protects patient confidentiality, Richard Ashcroft, Ph.D., of Queen Mary University of London suggests there are three reasons for breaching this. These include the consent of the patient herself, the need to prevent a significant risk of potentially serious harm to a third-party individual, and promotion of a significant public interest. If a change to the law were to occur, a system to allow a favorable dissemination of this information is necessary. However, Raanan Gillon, M.D., of Imperial College London argues that patients' personal privacy should be protected.
"Any change to the law would have to contemplate at what point informing relatives performs the greater good against a background of ever-changing knowledge," Burton writes. "The problem then arises of who decides when we know enough to consider the balance of good has tipped in favor of informing relatives, and what the criteria for such a decision should be."