A Look at Confidentiality
Confidentiality is a big word for us at Island Sexual Health, figuratively and literally. It plays a part in many of the happenings, decisions and actions in our organization. At first it seems quite simple… don’t share information. However, it is not always that black and white; like pretty much every issue we deal with around here! While we have a pretty good understanding of what it means to us, we decided we should make a clear statement in order to share this with others. It was not an easy task, and involved many conversations. Being clear about what confidentiality is and more importantly what its limits are (because in Canada it always has limits) is essential in creating the safest environment for our clients.
Creating safety is super important for us. First of all it can be pretty intimidating for people to even walk in the door and then if they do we ask them for some pretty personal details about their lives. If people don’t feel safe to give that information it’s difficult for them to get the best care possible. Confidentiality is in place to make this a little bit easier, it means your information is safe, and stays just that ‘your information’. While all this is true, like I said above, there are some exceptions you should know about when giving anyone (not just a sexual health clinic) personal information.
Exceptions to confidentiality are all around safety. So if someone reveals evidence of harm to themselves or others or to a child this needs to be reported. This makes sense, but it travels into that grey zone when we are deciding what ‘harm’ means. Take, for instance, the question that asks if you are a “Marijuana or Pot smoker” from our intake form. There are various opinions on the amount of ‘harm’ this activity causes, not to mention that it is still illegal for most people to do. For some, they may wonder if by answering ‘yes’ will someone need to report this? Unless an action is causing substantial harm to yourself or others it doesn’t fit into the “must report” category so the answer is most likely not. The important thing to know is that we ask all these questions purely for the purpose of providing the best health care possible, without moral judgement. Our doctors operate under the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia’s Professional Standards and Guidelines which outlines exactly what doctors need to report. Below is the statement we use based on that document and which we provide all clients who use our services:
All client information is confidential and will not be released without client consent unless legally required. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV are reportable infections in BC. We are required to follow up and report positive results to BC Centre for Disease Control for statistical purposes and partner notification. It is important that sexual partners are notified of a positive result and advised to get treatment. This can be done confidentially without your name being used.
We are required by law to report disclosures of harm to self or others, child abuse or neglect, or if information is required by a court of law or other legal proceedings. We follow the guidelines concerning our duty to report that have been created by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC. If you would like more information regarding this, please ask a staff member.
Remember if you ever have questions about confidentiality when giving information to a professional you always have the right to ask them to explain their confidentiality policy beforehand.