Sharing patient information between professionals: confidentiality and ethics

Annette J Braunack-Mayer and Ea C Mulligan
Med J Aust 2003; 178 (6): 277-279.


  • Careful consideration of the ethical implications is required before patient information should be shared without the patient's knowledge.

  • Routine and apparently uncontroversial releases of information can be perceived as problematic by patients.

  • The ethics of such "ordinary" breaches of confidence can be explored by considering the patient's autonomy, the patient's best interests, and the public interest in preserving or breaching confidentiality.

  • Patient autonomy can be supported and ethical problems may be avoided when patients are given as much information as possible about foreseeable information disclosures.

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  • Annette J Braunack-Mayer1
  • Ea C Mulligan2

  • 1 Department of Public Health, University of Adelaide, SA.
  • 2 School of Law, The Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA.



Our research was supported in part by an Australian Postgraduate Award and a Flinders University Research Student Grant.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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  • 6. Hamblin J. Confidentiality, public interest and the health professional's duty of care. Aust Health Rev 1992; 15: 422-434.
  • 7. Kirby M. Privacy protection — a new beginning. In: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Privacy and Personal Data Protection; Hong Kong, 13–14 September 1999. Hong Kong: Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, 1999: 8.


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