The surgical oncologist may confirm which of the following?

On a Sunday afternoon, a surgical oncologist and his family attend a football game in the city where he practices. While at the game, he runs into a physician colleague that works at the same institution. After some casual small talk, his colleague inquires, “Are you taking care of Mr. Clarke, my personal trainer? I heard through the grapevine that he has melanoma, and I didn’t know if you have started him on any chemotherapy or performed any surgical intervention yet. Hopefully you’ll be able to take very good care of him.” In this situation, the surgical oncologist may confirm which of the following?

    1. The patient’s name
    1. The patient’s diagnosis
    1. The patient’s treatment plan
    1. No information at all
    1. Only that Mr. Clarke is his patient

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In order to be in compliance with patient confidentiality, a physician must not discuss any information regarding a patient’s care with a physician who is not actively involved in that patient’s care. This includes not only the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of a patient’s care, but also the confirmation or denial of whether or not a person is in fact a patient of the physician in question.

A physician has an ethical responsibility to his or her patients to respect and protect their confidentiality in every situation - including non-physician interactions as well as with physician colleagues who are not involved in the active care of the patient. The most appropriate course of action in a situation as described above would be to withhold information concerning the patient’s condition and medical course. Physicians should not be dishonest or lie in order to protect patient confidentiality.

McCunney discusses the importance of preserving patient confidentiality. They recommend using the codes of conduct from the American Medical Association, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, as well as relevant parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1970, to help physicians make informed decisions about requests for medical information.

Illustration A shows a schematic overview of HIPAA.