The principle of confidentiality is closely related to the concept of privacy and is both a legal and an ethical requirement. While laws about confidentiality and ethical obligations apply to people with all health conditions, HIV confidentiality has acquired a greater significance, highlighting pre-existing deficiencies within the health-care system.
Ethical management of information involves respecting privacy and confidentiality without compromising health or safety. Considerations for nursing practice include implementing strategies to avoid inadvertent breaches of confidentiality – such as:
- systematic procedures requiring staff check who is present with the patient when discussing discharge medications to ensure HIV status is not accidentally disclosed
- ascertaining to whom the patient has or has not disclosed his or her HIV status and documenting this information
- using numbers instead of names in waiting rooms
- informing patients about the limitations to confidentiality, such as by advising them of the legally mandated requirement for the nurse to inform child protection authorities where sexual contact with a minor is disclosed.