Mok Hao Ting, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
With news reports on the lapses in privacy and confidentiality issues becoming commonplace in today’s society, it is imperative to stay vigilant and aware of the privacy laws set in place to prevent falling prey to the breach of confidentiality. Mr Tham Hsu Hsien, partner of Allen & Gledhill LLP, gave a lecture on “Privacy and Confidentiality in Optometric Practice” at the Singapore Primary Eye Care Symposium (SPECS) 2019 held from 23-24 July at One Farrer Hotel.
The Optometrists & Opticians Act (OOA) was passed by the Parliament of Singapore to regulate the practice of optometrists and opticians. Under the code of professional conduct and professional practice guidelines, it is emphasised that confidential information should not be made accessible to unauthorised personnel. A majority of medicolegal complaints and cases are filed due to the misuse of confidential information, resulting in a breach of confidence which is the known disclosure of confidential information. Confidentiality is the right of an individual to have personal, identifiable medical information kept private.
The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) implemented in 2012 is a specialised privacy law, establishing a data protection law that comprises various rules governing the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data. PDPA ensures a baseline standard of protection for personal data across the economy by implementing sector-specific legislative and regulatory frameworks. One key obligation of the act is that consent given by the patient can always be withdrawn.
The rationale behind the implementation of these laws is the need to maintain a close eye care professional-patient relationship, in order to provide the best for patients. To strengthen this bond, there must be openness from patients as well as trust and confidence in the eye care professional to properly provide healthcare that is desired. This trust and confidence is built when there is protection of patients’ rights, and respect for their privacy and autonomy.
With that being said, there are some exceptions to the law, in which practitioners face little or no legal consequences for the disclosure of confidential information. These exceptions are, but not limited to, when consent is obtained from patients to disclose their personal information, when disclosure is mandated by the law (Infectious Disease Act) and when disclosure is in the best interest of the public. However, when the situation is unclear, one should always take the necessary steps to secure a patient’s confidential information.
Mr Tham concluded his lecture by giving practical tips to lower the risk of professional misconduct amongst eye care professionals. Within the company, it is essential to establish internal written protocols on handling documents and information subject to confidentiality and privacy laws. Moreover, training of staff on handling situations where risk of breach of confidentiality is involved should be reinforced. When disclosing confidential information, it is advisable to obtain expressed written consent from the patient. Eye care professionals should work within the regulations to reduce the risk of being fined or suspended from practice.