Lebanese American University


Confidentiality, building a relationship of trust

LAU is dedicated to forming a new generation of health professionals that puts confidentiality at the forefront of medical practices.

Confidentiality is one of the core duties in the medical profession, yet one which is most often overlooked. In Lebanon, the prevalence of close-knit communities makes the argument for patient privacy ever more compelling.

According to Dr. Sola Bahous, assistant dean for Clinical Affairs at LAU’s Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury School of Medicine, it is common for extended families to presume they have a right to intimate details about the patient’s health. “Students find it difficult to deal with family members who insist on remaining in the room during a doctor’s visit,” says Bahous referring to LAU students in health and health-related disciplines working at LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital, the university’s affiliated hospital.

Nancy Hoffart, founding dean of the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing, affirms that privacy is a complex issue in Lebanon. “A student once said that he could not lie to his mom,” says Hoffart. “It was a joke, but it still says a lot about how hard it is for some students to withhold information from their families.”

In light of an increasing awareness of its pivotal role in building a relationship of trust, LAU is stressing the importance of confidentiality in its curriculum.

“We teach them about confidentiality both by discussing the concept in class and by providing role models they can refer to when handling certain situations,” says Bahous. In ethics class, students are confronted with real-life scenarios designed to develop their ability to think critically about their actions and their consequences.

In Hoffart’s view, the fact that social media often compounds the problem must be tackled in the classroom. “When students enter a hospital for the first time, they are excited about the new experience and want to share it with friends, but they must know that this might mean a serious breach of the patient’s privacy,” she says. “It does not matter if the patient is sharing information on social media. A medical professional is nonetheless bound to confidentiality.”

To ingrain ethical practices in the students, they are  instructed to write reports using only the patient’s initials even when working alongside their supervisor.

According to Hoffart, who has had extensive experience in the U.S., there is a greater degree of information sharing in Lebanon but the repercussions of a confidentiality breach can be harsher.

“When a woman has breast cancer in the U.S., she will most probably say so because she is sure to receive support,” says Hoffart. “In Lebanon however, it is the opposite. The patient will most likely want to keep it secret.”

In Lebanon, cases of doctors discussing confidential records in public places, such as hospital elevators, have harmed the relationship of trust that is at the basis of good medical care. LAU is dedicated to forming a new generation of health professionals that truly understands the importance of safeguarding a patient’s right to privacy.


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