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Health Care Dignity
Providing Health Care by Respecting Human Dignity
The Italian data protection Authority set out the measures to be adopted by public and private entities in order to bring the operation and organisation of health care facilities into line with the relevant provisions of the data protction Code, so as to ensure the best possible safeguards for individuals. This was done via a general decision adopted on November 9, 2005; its main contents can be summarised as follows:
It is necessary to always ensure the protection of an individual’s dignity. This applies in particular to the disabled, children and the elderly as well as to patients undergoing invasive medical treatments and/or requiring special care (e.g. patients undergoing abortion). In resuscitation units there must be made arrangements, also of a provisional nature (e.g. by using screens), to ensure that a patient may only be visible during visiting hours to his/her relatives and friends.
Protecting Confidentiality in Communications
Health care staff must prevent the disclosure of medical information to third parties, in particular when making prescriptions or issuing certifications. This also applies whenever medical records (lab charts, health records, prescriptions) are to be delivered in areas not specifically intended for this purpose (e.g. premises where several types of service are delivered, information counters, etc.).
Hospitals and health care bodies must set out an appropriate queuing distance as regards over-the-counter transactions (e.g. scheduling appointments) as well as when gathering medical information; users’ awareness should be raised by means of signs, placards and ad-hoc recommendations.
Information Provided by ER Units
ER units are allowed to inform, also by phone, on whether a given individual was/is present within their premises, however this only applies to third parties lawfully entitled to obtain such information (relatives, friends, cohabiting persons). If the data subject is conscious and is not incapacitated, he/she must be informed in advance (e.g. upon being hospitalised) and allowed to decide who is to be notified of his/her presence in the ER unit.
Information on Wards
Health care bodies may provide information on whether a given individual has been hospitalised in a given ward, however this only applies to third parties lawfully entitled to obtain such information (relatives, friends, voluntary staff). Again, if the data subject is conscious and is not incapacitated, he/she must be informed upon being hospitalised and allowed to decide who is to be informed as to whether and where he/she has been hospitalised.
Patients waiting for a given service and/or for being provided with certain records (e.g. lab tests) in the premises of major health care bodies should not be called up by their names. Alternative solutions should be implemented, e.g. by allocating a progressive number at the time a booking is made and/or a patient’s application is registered.
Lists of Patients
Posting waiting lists of surgical patients in areas open to the public is not admissibile, regardless of whether the individual diseases are also referred to. Records on a data subject’s clinical status, e.g. nursing records located next to a patient’s bed, should not be visible to third parties.
Information on Health Status
Information on a data subject’s health may only be provided to third parties if the data subject has consented thereto specifically. The consent may also be given by a relative if the data subject is physically or legally incapacitated, or else – on a case by case basis – by other persons entitled to do so such as family members, cohabiting persons, or persons that are closely related to the data subject in question.
Third parties accessing health care premises – e.g. voluntary associations – must comply with all the regulations and safeguards laid down by the individual health care bodies in respect of their own staff prior to accessing information related to a patient’s treatment and/or care; this includes, for instance, confidentiality constraints and the mechanisms for getting in touch with the patient(s).
Collecting Lab Tests
Clinical reports, lab tests and certifications issued by labs and/or other health care bodies may be collected by individuals other than the data subjects providing they are entrusted with this task in writing and the information is delivered in a closed envelope.
Family doctors, private medical clinics and medical specialists are not required to take the above measures, however they must ensure respect for the data subjects’ dignity and enforce professional secrecy obligations.