If you were living in the US, you’d probably have to pass through an avalanche of paperwork before you even got a chance to meet your doctor. Especially in sensitive cases like cosmetic surgery and trauma therapy, doctors are extra careful with their patients.
In India, things may not be so simple. So before you step into a doctor’s office, here’s what you need to know to protect your confidentiality. According to cosmetic surgeon Dr Rustom Ginwalla, it is a patient’s right to know how their pictures are going to be used. Every patient should demand a consent form, which must provide details on whether or not the photos and information can be used. If a patient does give consent, the form should also state the degree to which the identity is revealed. Even before the photo is finally published, the patient should ask to see it.
“Some patients do agree to allow their pictures to be used for medical purposes like teaching other doctors. In some cases, photos might be used to show new patients procedures that the doctor has done in the past,” explains Dr Rashmi Shetty, cosmetic physician. “But in both the cases, consent forms must be signed and the patient’s identity must be blurred,” she adds.
The common method of hiding the patient’s identity is to blur the eyes and eyebrows. If there are any other distinctive features, those must be blurred or marked out as well.“The photograph and area of usage must be clearly marked out on the consent form,” reveals Shetty.
Exceptions where the complete identity is revealed can be made when the patient is actually a model who has agreed to the photos being published in return for monetary compensation. “Any doctor who reveals information without consent or adequately protecting the patient’s identity is only doing it as a cheap gimmick. It is very unethical for a doctor to do this,” she concludes.
In the case of psychological counselling, doctors must protect their patients’ confidentiality in order to gain their trust, agrees Dr Seema Hingorrany. “There are instances, especially in marital counselling, where it is difficult to separate information given to you by the husband from that given by the wife. But details must be protected even from one spouse to another.”
She brings up the topic of consent forms, adding, “If a patient is mentally ill or underage, a relative must sign the consent form to control how much information is revealed and to whom.” Though most psychologists do not tape counselling sessions, a recorder can only be used after the patient’s consent. Hingorrany says, “The tapes are kept in archives, even if the patient is no longer coming to the doctor. But only the doctor should be privy to that tape. It is an ethical goof-up if a session is taped without the patient’s consent.”