Patient Confidentiality – When Someone Claims To Be The Patient


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We have all been shocked by the sad news of the nurse Jacintha Saldanha in London who sadly took her life after a hoax call.

Many Receptionists and Nurses have no doubt thought of the sad incident and run through their mind how they would have dealt with such a call. I know I have.

We all know the importance of patient confidentiality – it is vital that patient information is protected and only shared with those on a need to know basis.

But, many of you reading this will think back to an incident whereby it has been difficult to deal with such a call – but it is how you deal with it that is the most important – and more importantly is how you have the knowledge and ability to deal with such calls. This comes with experience, training and support from the organisation that you work with.

Did Jacintha have that support and training? I am not here to judge or comment on the incident but I can share with you how as a receptionist a call that I dealt with. When I become a manager I took this experience on with me and used it in the training of all new receptionists.

The story I am about to tell is similar in as much as the caller was pretending to be someone they were not and trying to obtain patient information from the surgery.

True Story:

One morning I was on took a call. The caller asked if her daughters’ pregnancy results had come back. I explained that due to patient confidentiality I was unable to give her the results as she was not the patient.  She was not very happy about this – she insisted that her daughter had asked her to call; she explained that her daughter was in college and couldn’t phone.

I suggested to the caller that she ask her daughter to call in her lunch break – or perhaps when she finished college as we were open until 7.00 pm. She was having none of it – she had every excuse to why her daughter couldnt phone the surgery herself. She then started getting aggressive  – I again said that I was unable to give her any information regarding her daughter.

She gave some more abuse and hung up.

Five minutes later I answered the telephone again – the same woman this time claiming she WAS the patient. (I suspect she thought she would have got another receptionist answering the phone the second time but she got me again)

I asked this caller if in fact it was the same person that I had spoken to only five minutes ago – she denied that she had phoned before  and insisted she was the patient and asked for her results again. 

So…………….as a receptionist what would you have done in this situation?

I had to think quickly – this caller was claiming she was the patient – I had my doubts that she was the patient.  Had another receptionist have taken the call she would have presumed that she was the patient and may have given out the results.

So I asked the caller her DOB which she was able to tell me (after all if I was correct she was the mother of the patient)

I asked the caller to confirm when she had brought the test in – this time she couldn’t answer my question – she tried to say that she wasn’t too sure but thought it was about 3/4 days previous. (Checking the patients’ records she in fact had brought the test in 2 days previous)

I kept the call going in a professional way and said I could not find a record of the results (although they were there in front of me) and asked if I could have her mobile telephone number and I would call her back once I had called the hospital for the results.

Guess what – she couldn’t give me “her” number. While we all usually know our own mobile telephone numbers we don’t usually know others off the top of our heads.

The caller again started to get aggressive and insisted that she would phone me back when I had spoken to the hospital. At this point I agreed that she would call me back in 20 minutes and gave her my name. I doubted that she was going to do this.

She never did call back.

I put an entry into the receptionists’ message book of the incident to warn them in case this woman called back again.

So, what if something similar were to happen a few questions that you could ask are:

  • Confirm date of birth
  • When did the patient last come into the surgery?
  • What Doctor/Nurse did they see?
  • What time was their appointment?
  • Tell them you will call them back – if they are not the patient they usually are unable to give you their number off the top of their head.

If you are speaking to the patient I am sure they would only be too pleased that you are taking patient confidentiality seriously and will not mind answering any of your questions.

And most important if you are in ANY doubts do not give out any information – ask the caller their telephone number and tell them you will get back to them. When you finish the call speak to your team leader or manager and seek advice.

As a manager I would always tell my team as long as they took every possible step towards maintaining patient confidentiality and in the event that patient confidentiality was broken I would support them 100%.

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2 thoughts on “Patient Confidentiality – When Someone Claims To Be The Patient

  1. Its such a difficult thing isn’t it? You have to walk a balance between believing what the caller says while considering whether it’s all a whopping pack of lies!! We are told to ask, in the case of a caller from a distant hospital,or organisation, they have a switchboard we can call? We then call back on that number, ask for,the person, and get put through. But what if there is NO switchboard?
    In the case of relatives, careers, neighbours etc, sometimes if the need is desperate we scroll through past practice notes to see if they have called before and we have their details. This helps. We also encourage patients to complete ‘Permission to share medical information ‘ slip, so permission to speak to husband, niece, neighbour or man at the corner shop is the first thing we see when we log into their notes. Saves a LOT of time and tears!!

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