The most common exception to medical privacy is when the person who is or has been in
treatment consents to waive his or her privacy. (For minor children, this power rests
with the parent or guardian.) The concept of consent reflects the fact that privacy
is designed to protect the interests of the patient, not other parties, from unwanted
An important part of consent is the patient's ability to tailor its scope and content.
While releasing some information, a patient may wish to avoid release of certain highly
sensitive information, like sexual orientation or marital infidelity, for example.
For consent to be valid, the patient should be reasonably informed of the individual
to whom disclosure will be made, the purpose or need for the disclosure, the type of
information to be disclosed, and the period for which the consent will be effective.
There are differences of opinion about whether consent must be in writing. Though
it may be wise to get consent in writing, requiring this by law may introduce needless
inflexibility and expense to the health care system.
There are also differences of opinion about whether a health system can require
disclosure as a condition of offering medical treatment. Rather than being the subject
of law or regulation, this should be the subject of bargaining in the marketplace.
Disclosed diagnosis and treatment information helps hospitals and health systems save money. People
who are willing to consent to appropriate disclosures of their health care information
should be able to enjoy the benefit of the cost savings they contribute to. Those who
do not wish to reveal information to their health care systems should be able to withhold
consent, but be willing to pay higher costs as a result.