Professional Secrecy

What is Professional Secrecy?

Under review

Western medicine situates the historical  origins of its professional secrecy in the Hippocratic Oath. Respect for private life, particularly in the context of the professional relationship, still has meaning in our day. The protection of confidential information is ensured by the Canadian and Québec charters; it is also confirmed in the Civil Code of Québec. Both the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information and the Act respecting health services and social services contain several provisions to ensure the confidentiality of health information within health establishments, including CLSCs. As for private practices, they are subject to the provisions on the matter as stipulated in the  Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector. Whatever the place of practice, the Professional Code and the Code of Ethics of Physicians of Québec apply. They place particular emphasis on professional  secrecy, while providing for certain exceptions. Indeed, the physician must often reconcile respect for professional secrecy with other equally important concerns, notably the safety of others.

As for consent, the primary concern of professional secrecy is to safeguard the independence and private life of  the person. Add to this the desire to maintain the patient’s confidence in the medical profession. Here in Québec, observing professional secrecy is not an absolute. Thus, barring rare exceptions, patients may have access to their medical record. And while the information must first be disclosed to the patient, there are instances when a patient will ask the physician to transmit certain information concerning him to a third party. When there is a just and compelling reason concerning the health and safety of the patient or a third party, the physician may communicate certain items of information even without having obtained authorization from the patient. Indeed, in certain specific situations, the law provides for certain departures from professional secrecy, particularly for the purpose of protecting others.