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Confidentiality in counseling and its limits

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2022 | Medical Licensing

As a mental health provider, you have a responsibility to maintain patient confidentiality. This is to protect patients from embarrassment and possibly other negative consequences if their private matters were to become more widely known.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act mandates confidentiality of patient information, as do state laws. A breach of confidentiality could cost you your professional license. However, there are also limits to confidentiality. In certain situations, refusing to disclose patient information could constitute an ethical breach that could endanger your license as well.

Potential unintentional breaches of confidentiality

You may not intend to share information about patients with other people. However, according to Good Therapy, there are careless actions you may take without thinking that could result in a breach. For example, sharing patient information in a text or voicemail could result in a breach because you do not know who could see or hear it other than the intended recipient. Even acknowledging to an outside patient that a patient has an appointment could compromise confidentiality.

Limits to confidentiality

Generally speaking, you must maintain confidentiality except when doing so could impede legal proceedings or result in harm to someone else. According to Pollen, you must comply with court orders to release information about a patient. You must also report suspected abuse against vulnerable people, such as elders or children. Furthermore, you must make a report to the proper authorities in cases when patients pose an imminent danger to themselves or other people.

Federal and state laws require confidentiality within reasonable limits. The ethical standards of your profession provide decision-making guidance about whether the situation warrants a breach of confidentiality.