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Nurses have an ethical responsibility to safeguard information obtained in the context of the nurse-client relationship. When clients entrust their health care and health information to a nurse, they expect and rely on it being kept confidential.

Clients also depend on nurses to maintain their privacy. Both federal and provincial legislation exist to protect a client’s personal and health information.

Practice Standard

Case studies

FAQs

I work in an emergency department. If a police officer asks, should I share information about a patient?

In general, you’re expected to keep client information confidential unless your client consents or you are legally or ethically obligated to disclose – regardless of where you work. Some examples of situations where you would be obligated to share:

  • Under a court order or warrant
  • When legislation requires e.g., reporting a child in need of protection (under the Child, Family and Community Service Act)
  • When you’ve determined there is a substantial risk of significant harm to the health or safety of the client or others

In some circumstances, your manager or the privacy officer can also determine that you may disclose personal client information.

Check your agency policy to see when and what information you may share with the police. If there is no policy or you have questions, speak with your manager or privacy officer.

If you do disclose, restrict the information you share and people you inform to the minimum necessary to fulfill your obligation.

You’ll find more information and guidance in the Privacy and Confidentiality Practice Standard.

We often talk about patients during breaks in the staff room. I think this is okay because we all work on the same unit. Am I right?

In order to provide care, it's appropriate to share 'need to know' client information with other care team members. Talking about clients for other purposes may be breaching confidentiality.

You’ll find more information and guidance in the Privacy and Confidentiality Practice Standard.

I work in a clinic where staff from other agencies provide services to our clients. How do my colleagues and I decide what client information to share? Do we need to ask the client for consent?

You need to tell your client that their personal information will be collected, used and shared with other members of their health care team. Make sure the client knows who is on the care team. Only share information with people currently involved in providing or planning care. Limit information you share to what each team member needs to know to provide appropriate care. Consider getting specific consent for sharing sensitive information such as test results.

My colleague shares information about clients on Facebook. Although the clients’ names aren’t posted, I don't think it's okay. What should I do?

You're right. Even without using a name, other identifiers may make clients recognizable. It's important for you to share your concerns with your colleague. The resource Taking action on concerns about practice may help you.

You’ll find more information and guidance on social media use on our social media page.

My client wants to see her health record. Does she have a right to see it?

Yes. Under BC law, the information in a client's record belongs to them and they have a right to see this information; however, the medical record legally belongs to the health care provider, hospital or care facility that made it. Follow your organization's policy when a client asks to see their health record.

The BCCNM Privacy and Confidentiality practice standard requires that nurses respect clients' rights to access their health records and assist them to obtain access to these records. BCCNM Standards reflect the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act whereby clients can make written requests to see their records.