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Ethics in the Medical Industry

Ethics in the Medical Industry – Disclosure of Confidential Information

Patients are called users in the National Health Act No. 61 of 2003. The word user also implies consumer. This means that the user of a healthcare service has the same rights that consumers of products have in other industries. As such, the Consumer Protection Act also applies to the users of services in the medical industry. That stated, many patients (or users) still fall victim to unethical behaviour by healthcare providers.

Ethics in the medical industry are closely related to the regulations stipulated by the National Health Act, but an action can be unethical, yet still within the confines of the law. It is, however, extremely important for healthcare workers to respect ethics in the medical industry.

In consideration of doctor-patient confidentiality as a matter of also falling within the scope of ethics in the medical industry, it is understood that the patient of the service has the right to dignity. If a medical practitioner acts outside the allowable boundary of ethics and the law by sharing confidential information, for example, with a friend on the golf course about his patients, then that practitioner is guilty of misconduct. If such sharing of information leads to a patient’s reputation being negatively affected, then the patient suffers damage. If the damage is substantial, such as the patient losing their standing in the community or their job, the action of the practitioner can be described as a form of malpractice.

According to the acceptable standards of ethics in the medical industry and the National Health Act, all information regarding a patient is confidential. This includes information about the patient’s health status, the treatment received, or their stay at a particular hospital or care centre.

No person, subject to Section 15 of the Act, is allowed to disclose any information unless the patient has given consent in writing, a court order or relevant law requires such, or where non-disclosure poses a serious risk to public health.

Health records must be kept at the healthcare institution or service provider for every patient of the particular service in a manner that prevents unauthorised access to the patient information. This is also regulated by the Promotion of Access to Information Act No 2 of 2000 and the National Archives of South African Act, No. 43 of 1996.

It is not unethical for a healthcare worker with access to the records to disclose personal information of a patient to another person or care provider, if needed, for any legitimate reason in the scope of their duties where it is in the interest of the patient. Personal information means information kept on record according to Section 1 of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

A healthcare provider has the right to examine the health records of a patient for treatment purposes with the authorisation given by the patient and may do so for research or teaching purposes if the patient has given authorisation. In the instance of research and study, the relevant health research ethics committee must provide authorisation. If the teaching or research obtains no information about the identity of the patient, however, it is unnecessary to get authorisation.

Ethics in the medical industry covers various topics ranging from consent to actions, such as deciding not to provide a patient with medical assistance.

Seek legal advice if you have suffered damage as the result of the unethical conduct of a medical service provider. Contact Adele van der Walt Incorporated for more information.


Information in this article is not intended as legal advice and is only for informational purposes. Please seek legal guidance from Adele van der Walt Incorporated before relying on this information to make any legal decisions.

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