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Privacy and Confidentiality

Nurses have an ethical responsibility to safeguard information obtained in the context of the nurse-client relationship. When clients entrust their health care and health information to a nurse, they expect and rely on it being kept confidential.

Clients also depend on nurses to maintain their privacy. Both federal and provincial legislation exist to protect a client’s personal and health information.

Case studies


I work in an emergency department. If a police officer asks, should I disclose information about a client?

Nurses protect personal and health information learned in the context of the nurse-client relationship regardless of the practice setting. Only share information outside of the health care team if you have client consent, or if there is an ethical or legal duty to do so.

Follow agency policy to decide what client information you may disclose with the police. If there is no policy or you have questions, talk to your supervisor or privacy officer before you share information.  

Times when you would need to share client information:

  • Under a court order or warrant
  • When legislation requires it (e.g., reporting a child in need of protection under the Child, Family and Community Service Act)
  • When you've determined there is a substantial risk of significant harm to the health or safety of the client or others

You can find more information and guidance in the Privacy and Confidentiality practice standard.

My client wants to see her health record. Does she have a right to see it?

​Yes. Under BC law, the information in a client's record belongs to them and they have a right to see this information; however, the medical record legally belongs to the health care provider, hospital or care facility that made it. Follow your organization's policy when a client asks to see their health record.

The BCCNP Privacy and Confidentiality practice standard requires that nurses respect clients' rights to access their health records and assist them to obtain access to these records. BCCNP Standards reflect the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act whereby clients can make written requests to see their records.

We often talk about clients during breaks in the staff room. I think this is okay because we all work on the same unit. Am I right?

Nurses have ethical and legal responsibilities to protect clients' privacy and the confidentiality of their personal and health information. And, clients trust and expect nurses to keep their information confidential.

Share personal and health information only as needed. Limit the number of people you share information with to the minimum needed to meet legal, professional and ethical obligations. Just because you work with someone doesn't mean they have a right or a need to know about a client's care. Be aware of where you are and who is around you when discussing confidential client information.  Do not discuss client information in public, as not using the client's name is often not enough to protect confidentiality.

You'll find more information and guidance in the Privacy and Confidentiality practice standard.

I have included information in my client’s health record that I received from their family and friends. What happens to third party information in a health record when it is released to the client?

​You may obtain information about a client from another person—family member, friend or someone else—that is relevant to the client. When a client's record has another person's name in it, or has information about another person, the record may need to be "severed" before it is released. This means that parts are removed from the record before it is given to the client.

For example, if the client's record included the name of a friend or the name of another client, that part of the record would need to be removed before releasing the record to the client. This is the responsibility of the "privacy officer" who responds to information requests, but you should alert the privacy officer or your manager of the need to review for potential severing.