What You Need to Know About Privacy & Confidentiality in Aged Care
Privacy and confidentiality are complex topics that can prove challenging for aged care service providers. Make sure you’re fully aware of your responsibilities, from ensuring consent to policies surrounding confidentiality breaches.
Privacy, Confidentiality and Disclosure in Aged Care: 3 Key Concepts
Privacy and confidentiality may sound like synonyms, but there are key differences between them. Disclosure is another related concept that’s just as important for care providers. Understanding what these terms refer to will help you build better privacy, disclosure and confidentiality standards and policies.
What Is Confidentiality in Aged Care?
Confidentiality is the right to have sensitive information, such as health records, kept private. In aged care services, this means that personal information is only shared when the client consents.
You will need to collect personal information, like medical records, in order to provide adequate aged care. However, you must make sure that nobody has unauthorised access to this protected information.
The Commonwealth Privacy Act outlines how allied health professionals and other health service providers must handle individuals' personal information. This represents Australian privacy principles and legal obligations, although most countries also have their own regulations.
What Is Privacy in Aged Care?
Privacy is the right to be unobserved and undisturbed, in addition to not having personal information shared with others (i.e. observing confidentiality). This is essential to a client's dignity and comfort.
For example, privacy is an important consideration when providing intimate health care. Privacy does not just refer to bodily autonomy, however. Another example of privacy is giving clients and family members space to talk without being overheard by care workers.
The importance of providing sufficient privacy cannot be overstated. Not doing so could represent seriously improper conduct.
What Is Disclosure in Aged Care?
At times, you will need to disclose personal information about clients to your aged care workers or other health providers. However, you should only disclose health information to relevant persons and, in most cases, with the client's consent.
Disclosing should always be done in a confidential manner with respect for an individual's personal information. The intention of any disclosure should always be to uphold aged care quality and safety. This information should only be shared to an extent reasonable and necessary.
When Might You Disclose Information Without Consent?
Consent is a cornerstone of client confidentiality and privacy. However, there are some cases in which you may need to disclose personal information without a client's consent, such as when required to do so by law or to avoid a serious and imminent threat.
For example, you might have to share details of a client's health status if there are signs of abuse or you suspect unlawful activity.
Alternatively, you might share a client's health status if they are unconscious and therefore incapable of giving consent, and require an ambulance service. In this case, it could be necessary to provide the medical practitioners with a client’s private information in order to avoid a serious threat to their safety.
How to Protect Client Information in Aged Care
Aged care providers are expected to take reasonable steps to ensure privacy and confidentiality at all times. These include the following:
Know Who Is Responsible for Privacy
Your entire aged care provider business, from the CEO down to the newest team member, should understand the importance of privacy and confidentiality. However, having one person responsible for ensuring privacy standards are met will reduce the likelihood of details being overlooked.
Give someone on your team the task of ensuring your aged care organisation respects privacy and confidentiality, along with the authority to take action if privacy policies are not followed. Make sure this person has enough bandwidth to take on this task, and support them through regular check-ins.
Determine Appropriate Access
Identifying who needs access to what information, and ensuring that this access is respected, is key to respecting privacy and confidentiality. This should be built into your aged care system, from client onboarding and care plans through to service delivery.
Consent is essential to privacy and confidentiality. It should be sought as early on as possible in your relationship with a client, ideally in the form of a signed document.
It should also be regularly confirmed during care. Care workers should be supporting clients in communicating consent around personal space, who is present while care and health services are provided, and what care clients are receiving.
In particular, it is essential that your team maintain privacy and obtain consent during any intimate care.
Where are your confidential documents stored? Do you have appropriate security measures in place to ensure that unauthorised personnel cannot access protected information?
Ideally, your documents will be stored in a secure, password-protected, electronic system that is capable of providing varying levels of access to different users.
Provide Staff Training
No matter how good your policies are, if your staff members don't know how to put them into practice, you're at risk of breaching confidentiality and not complying with privacy laws. Provide your team members with regular, thorough training, and commit to regularly reviewing and updating your policies.
Follow Processes for Handling Disclosure and Confidentiality Breaches
Hopefully, your aged care provider business will never have to face a confidentiality breach. Should it happen, however, you should be prepared to respond quickly and appropriately. This means containing, assessing, notifying and reviewing.
Protecting Clients' Privacy and Confidentiality with the Right Tools
Privacy and confidentiality ensure people's dignity, respect and agency.
For aged care providers, respecting privacy is about far more than just complying with the safety commission and Privacy Act. It is about providing quality care that improves a person's health and quality of life.
At ShiftCare, we create secure aged care software that will help you track consent documentation, password-protect access to client information and ensure that privacy is always a priority.