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Ethics in Dentistry: Part I - Principles and Values

Course Number: 510


Confidentiality is related to respect for persons and involves the patient exercising his or her autonomy in providing information to the dental professional. Confidentiality is a critical aspect of trust and has a long history of use in health care. The requirement for confidentiality is mentioned in all codes of ethics as well as in the Hippocratic oath. Trust is necessary for the exchange of personal and intimate information from the patient to the clinician. A patient has a right to privacy concerning his or her medical and dental history, examination findings, discussion of treatment options and treatment choices, and all records pertaining to dental and dental hygiene care. This privacy extends to the way in which information is gathered, stored, and communicated to other health care professionals. Discussion about a patient’s history or treatment is not to be shared with spouses, family, or friends — to do so is a violation of confidentiality. Information about a patient can be given to other health care professionals with the patient’s permission.

Conflicts and exceptions will arise surrounding the principle of confidentiality. In certain situations, legal requirements exist to report diseases that may endanger the health of the public, such as sexually transmitted diseases. Reporting suspected child abuse, which is required in most states, is a violation of confidentiality. In dealing with minor children, divulging confidential information to the parents may be necessary to protect the child from harm. This is especially difficult with adolescents, who may or may not be adults according to the legal system and requires the clinician to be aware of state statutes and requirements. The patient’s right to confidentiality often must be balanced against the rights of other individuals. In any situation the health care provider must communicate to the patient the professional and legal responsibilities that exist for disclosure and work toward assisting the patient as much as possible.