Client confidentiality: Perspectives of students in a healthcare training programme

Nico Nortje, Jo-Celene de Jongh


Background. Confidentiality is an important ethical principle for all health professionals and also has a legal bearing on duty. One of the most difficult issues health professionals face in their daily fieldwork practice is a conflict between their professional duties, as illustrated in keeping a patient’s medical information confidential, and having empathy with a family member’s need to know. This moral dilemma is difficult for students to circumvent and therefore this paper presents healthcare students’ perspectives of confidentiality.

Methods. We aimed to explore healthcare students’ views and experiences of confidentiality as an ethical principle by adopting a qualitative explorative approach. Purposeful sampling was undertaken where specific individuals with specific experiences were identified. Data were collected by means of written responses from two open-ended questions and analysed thematically. Two themes emerged.

Conclusion. Confidentiality, as with other ethical principles, is an important obligation of a good client-therapist relationship as identified by students. However, the students’ responses illustrate that it cannot be absolute, and cognisance must be taken as to when it is acceptable, and even desirable, to override confidentiality because of conflicting, greater duties.

Authors' affiliations

Nico Nortje, Department of Psychology, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

Jo-Celene de Jongh, Department of Occupational Therapy, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa

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Cite this article

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2016;9(1):31. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2016.v9i1.460

Article History

Date submitted: 2016-02-10
Date published: 2016-02-15

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