Besides the four pillars of medical ethics, the three C's (confidentiality, consent, capacity) are a must-know foundation for many common medical school interview scenarios. Let’s start with confidentiality:
Confidentiality is a rule saying that you should keep secret all information the patient discloses to you as a healthcare professional.
The information given to healthcare professionals is very often of private and intimate nature. Most patients would feel hurt and discouraged if that information was to be shared with others without their will (which would do little to help them with their health problems). Furthermore, it could affect the patient's trust in healthcare professionals and, in turn, diminish their wish to disclose important information in the future (which may be key for an accurate diagnosis).
Practically anything the patient discloses to the physician without clear consent to reveal the information to anyone else (including other healthcare professionals, family or third-parties). However, there are a few exceptions…
Although you should maintain patient confidentiality 99.9999…% of the time, confidentiality isn’t absolute. There are several instances when confidentiality can or even should be breached:
1. If keeping the information confidential is likely to put human health or life at risk of harm and therefore the interests of the collective outweigh the benefits to the individual patient of keeping the information confidential. This may be when: a patient refuses to disclose their epilepsy to the DVLA (meaning they could pose a significant risk to others on the road), a patient refuses to employ safety measures to contain the spread of a contagious disease (for instance, when they refuse to disclose to their sexual partner they are HIV positive).
2. If the patient has given valid consent (LINK) to share the information with other individuals.
3. If the consent to disclose relevant information is implied. This is the case when more than one healthcare practitioner is involved in the care of a patient, and they need to have access to the medically relevant information to provide care. However, a patient may opt-out of the implied consent if they wish not to reveal some data to any individual involved in their care.
Whether it be MMI or Panel format, questions about confidentiality in medicine can come up in your medicine interview. They can take a variety of forms; you can be asked about confidentiality explicitly and directly, but sometimes you’ll be given a medical scenario and you’ll have to notice there is an issue with confidentiality there. Here are some example medicine interview questions about confidentiality that you can use to aid your interview prep: