As part of my preparations for the upcoming pre-reg exam, I have been reviewing the recently published GPhC guidance document on patient confidentiality.
This document lays down a legal standpoint that the regulator expects its registrants to follow, but as is always the case in pharmacy practice and ethics, situations are never black and white.
The document got me thinking back to and reflecting on a few situations that I have experienced during my training year – situations surrounding confidentiality that I'm sure pharmacists everywhere experience on a regular basis:
- A phone call from a concerned relative requesting information regarding a family member's prescription
- A key-worker enquiring if a substance misuse client has been using the needle exchange programme
- A police officer requesting contact details of a patient
- Seeing a regular patient outside of the pharmacy setting, saying hello, only to be questioned by an accompanying friend "so where do you know them from?"
- A carer enquiring about someone's medication changes
Reading them back as theoretical incidents, the decisions to be made may appear black and white, but at the time and in the moment it somehow didn't seem too straight forward.
Reading the guidance document puts these situations into context and possibly aids the decision making process with regards to whether or not to divulge information. Despite that, I think it's fair to say that I have taken more from discussion of the above situations with colleagues and experienced pharmacists than I have from reading the 10-page booklet.
Development of my own professional judgement has been a big part of my training year and something that only real practice experience can provide. Guidance from the regulator provides the structured backdrop to practice and makes sure everyone is singing from the same sheet. But at the end of the day, experience counts for a lot more than words on a page.
Owen Wood is a pre-registration trainee, and hopefully soon to be a newly qualified pharmacist, with a fresh outlook on service-based community pharmacy practice.
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