The common man has a fixation with the lives of celebrities, and this often seeps into the health domain. What kind of privacy protections can a celebrity who becomes a patient in a healthcare institution expect to receive?
And what implications does that have for privacy protections generally?
Over the last few weeks, we have seen two models of how this pans out. In case of the late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, her extended stay as a patient in a private healthcare facility in Chennai saw the hospital play an active role in controlling the flow of information about her health. This included sending out medical bulletins, clarifications and press releases, and explaining medical decisions, as well as being one of the first public sources for news of her death. While a major factor was that Jayalalithaa was in a serious condition for most part of her stay, it was also a decision endorsed by the administration and her personal support circle. The information flow was highly restricted, except towards the end where a flurry of medical updates were issued.
The other model is one where the celebrity patient decides on what information they want shared. This happened with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who was admitted at a public healthcare facility in Delhi. She was the first to announce her hospital admission while awaiting a kidney transplant via her Twitter account, and provided updates.
The hospital largely played a minor role. Only in the post-surgery phase did the hospital send out regular media updates. Even so, her family was exasperated at the amount of media attention drawn, with husband Governor Swaraj Kaushal tweeting that even a person in public life is entitled to some privacy.
The portals of a healthcare institution are a protected environment, and need to be kept so to ensure the provider-patient relationship can be focused on.
Patients should have their privacy protected by hospital administrators. This becomes important to prevent dignitary harm. While this might be difficult to achieve in tertiary-care institutions, mechanisms need to be built in to ensure such protection is available for all patients. Training staff at all levels, as well as students in the institution, is important.
In certain circumstances, it might be important to share such information to maintain public order and in public interest.
The media as the conduit for information need to exercise caution. Celebrity patient cases should serve as learning opportunities on the need to draw lines. A hunger for updates and information should not be at the expense of dignitary rights of others.
The author is a researcher in bioethics and global health, and Adjunct Professor, Yenepoya University, Karnataka.
Title: What celebrity patients teach us of patient privacy
Source: news from Healthcare Privacy
Author: KI Design Editor