Identify the legal, ethical & professional responsibilites of the nurse with regard to confidentiality.

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The legal responsibility of the nurse with regard to confidentiality stems from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a federal statute that protects the personal and medical information of people being treated by health care professionals. There are provisions within this statute that can impose fines and even imprisonment for an individual who breaches the confidentiality of a patient.

The ethical responsibility of a nurse stems from the special relationship between a patient and a nurse. The patient is in a vulnerable position, and this allows a nurse to have confidential information he or she would not otherwise have. If a nurse reveals any of this information, he or she is taking advantage of the patient and is harming the patient. Since it is the ethical responsibility of the nurse to help the patient, this is clearly unethical. The American Nursing Association has a code of ethics you might want to look at.

The professional responsiblity of the nurse is usually a function of the privilege of holding a license from the state in which the nurse practices.  You will need to check on your state's web site to find out what, if any, code of professional responsibility your state requires you to adhere to. Certainly, if one has a professional responsibility to a patient, there is a special relationship that implies confidentiality.

Additionally, there is case law that provides guidance on the issue of confidentiality for patient, outlining situations in which confidentiality has been held to have been breached and setting forth the duties owed to the patient.