2010 Student Ethics Essay Award – 3rd Place
Implications for Confidentiality in an Increasingly Technological World
By Suzannah Marie Allen
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, North Carolina
NSSLHA Chapter Advisor: Kimberly C. Crawford
While it is evident that we now live in a world with an ever-increasing wealth of information at our fingertips, the implications of this new information and technological landscape are less clear. Specifically in regard to the field of Speech-Language Pathology, this emergence of new technology has implications for the clients we serve and their right to privacy. These issues are relatively new to our field, given that many of these technologies have only come into widespread usage within the past ten or fifteen years. If we are to hypothesize about future trends in regard to technology, we would be wise to assume that technological advances will continue to emerge. In order to continue to provide the highest quality of service to our clients, we must keep abreast of these advances and modify our technological practices in order to maintain our client's confidentiality and privacy.
Principle I, rules K and L, address the confidentiality of client/student/patient information, while the confidentiality in relationships with colleagues is addressed in principle IV, rules B, F, I, and J (Code of Ethics, 2003). ASHA clearly states that both clients and colleagues have the right to privacy, and that any individual "who is (a) a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, whether certified or not, (b) a nonmember holding the Certificate of Clinical Competence from the Association, (c) an applicant for membership or certification, or (d) a Clinical Fellow seeking to fulfill standards for certification" is obligated to abide by these standards (Code of Ethics, 2003).
While the ASHA Code of Ethics is clear in delineating what rights must be awarded to the individual patient, colleague, student, or clinician, the current code of ethics does not specify appropriate use of confidential information in regard to the ever-expanding field of technology. Although the advent of new technology has done much to further speech and language professionals' scope of practice, it has some very real implications for our clients' right to privacy and confidentiality.
The emergence of technology has created a myriad of new ways for information to travel. Specifically, the now-widespread use of e-mail and flash drives has resulted in the ability to document therapy sessions from outside the clinical setting, thus opening the door for private information to be accessed by unauthorized persons. Furthermore, any information sent over the internet is subject to unsolicited viewing. Given that protected information is now susceptible in these ways, it is imperative that individuals take steps to protect the confidentiality of their clients and colleagues. The ASHA Board of Ethics recommends taking "reasonable precautions" such as the "removal, disguise, or coding of personal identifying information" and "dissemination of clinical service and research findings without disclosure of personal identifying information, if possible" (Confidentiality, 2004, p. 3). These precautions should be taken whenever possible so as to protect the privacy of each individual. In addition, every effort should be made to complete treatment notes in a secure setting. Finally, individuals have the ethical responsibility to ensure that conversations concerning individual clients and colleagues take place only in appropriate areas, and with individuals who have permission to be privilege to such information.
Respecting the privacy and confidentiality of our colleagues and clients is critical to maintaining a harmonious and productive environment. This especially holds true for our field, where SLPs and audiologists are often required to deal with individuals' records and protected health information. "Inherent in the privilege of access to such information is the ethical responsibility to maintain privacy and confidentiality" (Lansing, 2002, p. 22). Although technological innovations have, in many ways, enhanced our ability to serve clients, they have created new challenges for our field as well. Given the advances that technology has made and continues to make, we must remain vigilant about protecting individuals' rights. It is evident that technology has the potential to have detrimental effects on issues of confidentiality. If, however, we remain aware of the risks associated with our increased use of and reliance on technology, risks of confidentiality breech can be significantly reduced.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2003). Code of Ethics [Ethics]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2004). Confidentiality [Issues in Ethics]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
Lansing, C. (2002). Ethics. Loose lips: confidentiality in relationships with colleagues. ASHA Leader, 7(14), 22.