#Legal Sense

Medical confidentiality

By Funmilayo Olagunju


The first definition of confidentiality by Black’s Law dictionary is secrecy: the state of having the dissemination of certain information restricted.

Doctor-patient relationship is a form of confidential relationship which imposes a duty on the medical provider to protect the information acquired during course of work in respect to the health history and status of a patient.

Section 26 of the National Health Act 2014 provides for confidentiality of medical records. The section provides:

“All information concerning a user, including information relating confidentiality: to his or her health status, treatment or stay in a health establishment is confidential”.

The diagnosis and medical history of a patient is confidential and shall not be loosely shared by a medical practitioner. Every patient is entitled to the privacy of his/her health status subject to lawful exceptions.

Section 26 and Section 27 of the Act provides for lawful exceptions:

Section 26 of the National Health Act

Subject to section 27, no person may disclose any information contemplated in subsection (1) unless-

(a) the user consents to that disclosure in writing:

(b) a court order or any law requires that disclosure; or

(i) in the case of a minor with the request of a parent or guardian; and

(ii) in the case of a person who is otherwise unable to grant consent upon the request of a guardian or representative.

(c) non-disclosure of the information represents a serious threat to public health.

Section 27 of National Health Act

“A health worker or any health care provider that has access to the health records of a user may disclose such personal information to any other person, health care provider or health establishment as is necessary for any legitimate purpose within the ordinary course and scope of his or her duties where such access or disclosure is in the interest of the user”.

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There is an obligation on health establishment to protect the medical history of users in their facility. Section 29 of the National Health Act provides:

29. (1) The person in charge of a health establishment who is in possession of a user’s health records shall set up control measures to prevent unauthorised access to those records and to the storage facility in which, or system by which, records are kept.

By the provision of Section 29(2) (a) of the above cited Act, failure and or neglect to set up control measure for protection of medical record is an offence.

In the same vein, unauthorized access, alteration or transmission of the medical record of a patient is an offence which is punishable with term of imprisonment up to Two years, a fine of Two Hundred Thousand and Fifty thousand Naira or both.

“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful”.

I Corinthians 4:2 (NIV)

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