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April 01, 2020

Transparency Vs. Patient Privacy Regarding COVID-19

There has been much said about the conflict of providing citizens with information about the names
of persons who have tested positive for or died of COVID-19  and the the medical community's policy of silence. There is transparency with regard to the number of new cases and deaths and the efforts being made to address the pandemic. But people want to know more in order to determine if they have had any contact with those who have been infected.

Public health experts say that revealing the identities of those who have contracted the virus is not an option.
  • Ethically, doctors do not reveal the medical conditions of their patients. The Hippocratic Oath states that a physician will “respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.” Patients would not trust their doctors if they felt their medical conditions would be revealed,
  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensure that a person's  health records remain undisclosed to the general public long after their death. That means releasing names of anyone with COVID-19 would violate HIPAA,
  • Just wanting to know something like who died from coronavirus doesn’t entitle you to know and may only cause hysteria.
What officials can and are doing  is referred to as “contact tracing” investigation: finding out who has been in contact with the infected patient and advising them of best next steps. Perhaps easy when there were few deaths and infected patients, now is not so easy. The job has become enormous.

What do we need to do? With the exponential increase in the spread of the virus, all of us must focus more on protecting ourselves with frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowds.

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