The 'deeper meaning' of confidentiality within the physician-patient relationship

F. H. Marsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The traditional meaning assigned to the concept of confidentiality in the physician-patient relationship suggests that (1) there must be a 'real' relationship, and (2) that any matters disclosed by the patient during the course of this relationship are to be treated as confidential. Unlike his peers in England and Europe, the American physician is supplied with 'exceptions' by the AMA Principles of Medical Ethics for breaching entrusted confidences. The result of these exceptions is to force the physician at times to balance competing values without any clear course to follow. In the following essay, the suggestion is made that there is a 'deeper meaning' to the concept of confidentiality than has previously been supposed, which allows for the proposition that certain things are precluded from the very onset of a relationship and hence, can never become confidential. An acceptance of this meaning will free the physician from many of the ethical dilemmas he will confront when determining when to breach patient confidentiality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-136
Number of pages6
JournalEthics in Science and Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1979
Externally publishedYes


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