Loose Lips: Confidentiality in Relationships with Colleagues

by Charissa R. Lansing

(This article originally appeared in the August 6, 2002 issue of The ASHA Leader.)

Maintaining confidentiality in relationships with colleagues, students, and allied professionals is paramount to upholding the dignity of speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists. Respect for and honoring confidential information and the proprietary rights of others is critical to maintaining harmonious relationships. The spirit of respecting privacy and confidentiality is embodied in Principle IV (Rules B, F, I, and J) of the ASHA Code of Ethics (2001, The ASHA Leader, 6[23], p. 2). This article will highlight some issues for consideration.

Maintain confidentiality of proprietary and personal information.

In the course of their daily activities, SLPs, audiologists, or speech, language, and hearing scientists may be required to fill the role of clinician; supervisor; administrator; advisor; mentor; professor; reviewer of manuscript, grant, fellowship, or scholarship applications; site visitor; consultant; or participant in a group that deals with proprietary or personal information. Such activities involve access to sensitive information. Inherent in the privilege of access to such information is the ethical responsibility to maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Respect confidentiality in reporting/responding to alleged violations of the Code of Ethics.

Individuals who are members, certificate holders, applicants for membership or certification, or Clinical Fellows have an affirmative ethical responsibility to report to the Board of Ethics any action that they believe may be in violation of the Code.

There are two important considerations in this process. Any documentation or supporting evidence supplied by the individual(s) reporting or responding to alleged violations must maintain confidentiality of individuals named in records-such as clients, families, or clinicians-by removing identifying information.

Second, as a matter goes through the adjudication process, the policies and procedures of the Board of Ethics direct that all aspects of alleged violations be kept confidential until a final decision is rendered. Therefore, respect for confidentiality of the person(s) bringing the complaint forward, as well as that of the person(s) responding to the complaint, is expected ethical behavior.

Procedures are defined for the initial consideration hearing, further consideration hearing, and appeal process to afford due process to every individual under the jurisdiction of the Code of Ethics (2002, Statement of Practices and Procedures of the Board of Ethics, ASHA Supplement, 22). It is possible that a decision reached in the initial consideration hearing may be reversed upon further consideration. Breaking with confidentiality would violate ASHA's self-imposed standards and may be viewed as a form of harassment.

Respect disclosure of decisions by adjudicating bodies.

Some Board of Ethics decisions are of a severity that warrants disclosure in The ASHA Leader and possible notification of state licensing boards. However, the Board of Ethics will sometimes render a decision that imposes the sanction of reprimand. A reprimand is only disclosed to the individual complained against and to the individual who initiated the complaint. Reprimands are intended to remain confidential, and the parties should not disclose them further unless required by law to do so.

Further guidance is provided in the Issues in Ethics Statement on Confidentiality (2002, ASHA Supplement, 22).

Charissa R. Lansing previously served as a member of the ASHA Board of Ethics.

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