Section II: PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY
THE PATIENT'S PRIVACY IN THE HOSPITAL
a. Inevitable Intrusions on Privacy. A hospital stay, by its very nature, entails
constant and repeated intrusions on a patient's privacy. The patient will most likely be
seen by the intern, the resident, the physician, the nurse, and other members of the
health care team. All that is done for the patient and all reactions to treatment become
a matter of record, open to those with a legitimate need-to-know, that is, those providing
b. Protecting Personal Information. The presence of the patient in the
hospital may become a matter of public interest, when a prominent figure or a victim of
an unusual occurrence, that is, a "Karen Ann Quinlan" or a "Nancy Cruzan" is concerned.
The hospital authorities may then be flooded with inquiries about that patient's
condition. The nurse, however, is under an obligation to maintain professional secrecy.
The hospital should not release information of a personal nature to the press nor permit
photographs without the written consent of both patient and attending physician. Both
the codes of ethics for health care professionals and the Patient's Bill of Rights
generally recognize the patient's right to privacy. (See A-1, principle 5, A-3, 14.)
c. Limitations on Privacy for Public Figures and Noteworthy Events. An
individual may, by his or her own activities or by the force of circumstances, become a
public personage and, thereby, lose a part of his or her right to privacy. Privacy is
limited to the extent that the public has a legitimate interest in a public figure's affairs or
character. The issuance of a marriage license or a birth may be a newsworthy event.
LIMITATIONS ON PRIVACY FOR PUBLIC FIGURES
In Meetze vs Associated Press (S.C., 1865), a man whose 12-year-old wife gave birth
to a child filed suit against a newspaper for publicizing news of the birth. The court
held that the birth of a child to one so young was, in fact, a matter of legitimate public
interest, and the case was dismissed.
THE RIGHT OF PRIVACY
A hospital stay, by its very nature, involves inevitable infringements on privacy.
But, the patient's right to privacy should still be respected to the greatest extent
possible. In states where the concept of privacy is recognized, a person has the right
to live his or her life, if he or she so wills, without having pictures published, business
enterprises discussed, successful experiments written up, or eccentricities commented
upon for the benefit of others, in any form or medium of communication. Privacy is a
right based on constitutional and state statutes.