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Ethics of Healthcare Provider Disclosure of Personal Information

Should physicians be required to disclose personal information about themselves to patients as part of obtaining informed consent from patients? Personal information includes things such as their HIV status and if the (physicians) have any disabilities such as alcoholism or drug addiction.

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The question of a physician disclosing personal information regarding his/her infectious disease status, drug use (including alcohol), or anything else is framed by the legal and ethics communities as provider right to privacy versus patient risk. The short answer regarding HIV status is that most states require the health care provider consult with a panel regarding their HIV-positive status for guidance, but mandatory disclosure to patients is not required. This is based on a large body of research looking at transmission rates between providers and patients which uniformly have found miniscule risk of transmission, even with high exposure risk procedures. These findings also point out mandatory precautions must be observed, e.g., double gloving by surgeons. It is significant that these same considerations apply to Hepatitis B & C positive providers, and concern is expressed for other diseases such as TB. The issue for providers is stigmatization by ...

Solution Summary

Most states require an HIV-positive healthcare provider discuss the situation with a panel regarding any practice changes, but do not require mandatory disclosure to patients. Drug and alcohol abuse is always questioned with each professional license renewal, but disclosure is voluntary and denial of any impairment is part of the disease process. Ideally, a provider has the confidence to present any risk, perceived or real, that he/she presents to a patient and have a reasoned discussion with the patient. The patient's decision based on such discussion should be respected even if the provider disagrees.