When we think about holding things in confidence- several relationships come to mind that have a long history built on trust and the sharing of deeply private information. Most of us can name these relationships with ease… husband and wife… lawyer and client… health care providers, public health officials and patients. These relationships exist for a reason. To share one’s deepest thoughts, emotions, challenges, fears or medical conditions with another person requires a sacred trust. That expectation of trust allows us to navigate through life’s challenges… confident that we can overcome whatever may be in our path… certain that we can heal from our wounds… willing to make peace with what may face us along the way.
Patient confidentiality is a cornerstone of public health practice- not just because of patient information protection laws like HIPAA– but because it’s the right thing to do. The effectiveness of the entire public health system rests on a foundation of trust. A covenant within the entire Health Care/Public Health Continuum that gives patients the assurance that their private information will remain private. Without that trust- the critical public health information that we rely on to implement effective public health interventions and save lives would erode.
Violating that sacred trust would also cause irreparable harm to the very people we’re trying to help. Would you be comfortable telling your physician or the public health system private information if you knew it would be shared with your friends, neighbors or complete strangers? Would it instill confidence that the provider and the public health system had your best interest as a priority? The answer to these questions for most people is clearly “No”.
Those are just some of the reasons why we take patient confidentiality so seriously- whether it’s communicable disease information, data from our cancer, birth defects, trauma registries, patient information within the public behavioral health system, or information about the folks that we help at the Arizona State Hospital. As the agency that has the privilege of promoting health and wellness for all Arizonans- it’s important that we also hold the trust and confidence of Arizonans that comes with that privilege.