One thing I have noticed since using Twitter, is the increasing number of official emergency services (police, paramedics, fire, helicopter rescue etc) using Twitter to update the public on events that they are attending (usually whilst they are still in progress).
Sometimes they are single Tweets but often times they link back to their own website with more comprehensive information.
My question is: Is this instant information feed a breech of patient confidentiality? Remember, I am not talking about individuals here, I am talking about official organisational sites subscribed to by the general public.
And perhaps I should say right here that I am probably not the best one to be getting up on my soapbox espousing the rigors of patient confidentiality having crossed over that line myself.
Despite this…. its is something I have noticed and I am wondering if anyone else has.
Would the amount of information being given out be acceptable, say, if the patient were within the public hospital systems?
Does the information contained enough to identify the people involved, and if so, is consent being obtained to publish it?
Lets look at a random example of a Tweet by Ambulance Victoria (@Ambulancevic) that linked back to this report:
A man is in a critical condition after his car ran off the road and struck trees at Woori Yallock tonight.
An advanced life support ambulance, an intensive care ambulance, a single responder intensive care paramedic and an ambulance helicopter were called to the Warburton Highway just before 10pm.
Intensive care paramedic Peter Godwin said the man aged about 20 was trapped in the wreckage.
‘When paramedics arrived they found the man unconscious and still in the car,’ Mr Godwin said.
‘He suffered serious head and chest injuries and possibly spinal injuries in the crash. His lungs had collapsed and he was having significant trouble breathing, making his condition life threatening.
‘We performed a procedure to insert a large needle into either side of his chest to help reinflate his lungs and stabilise his condition.
‘The man was then given drugs to sedate and paralyse him, similar to an anaesthetic given in hospital.
‘That allowed us to put a breathing tube deep into his airway and breathe for him.
‘The man was flown by ambulance helicopter to The Alfred hospital in a critical condition,’ Mr Godwin said.
Now go back and re-read. I have italicised the information that could possibly lead to people identifying who it was (friends, bystanders, gen public etc) and underlined the clinical information that was given out.
Here is another (italicised and underlined as above):
A boy answered the door for paramedics with a python wrapped around his arm in Dingley Village this afternoon.
Advanced life support paramedics were called to the home at 1.10pm.
Student paramedic Elizabeth said the 15-year-old and his mother greeted them with the snake still latched on.
‘He told us he’d been cleaning the tank when the snake bit him then wrapped himself around the arm causing it to change colour,’ she said.
‘He was quite distressed and had small puncture marks to his arm.
‘The snake had started to relax by the time we arrived so he and his mum were able to detach it and force it back into the tank – quite a harrowing experience for my partner and I.
‘We cleaned the wound and wrapped it but the boy didn’t require transport to hospital.’
But what if the boys did not want his neighbors in Dingley Village to know that one of his snakes had bitten him, or why there was an ambulance outside their house that afternoon?
I have seen plenty of tweets that are absolutely no problems with very basic info given out (eg male transferred to hospital in stable condition), much the same as we would give out over the phone. But perhaps in their quest to provide a more comprehensive report, some of the reports have crept a little further towards that line.
I have quoted Ambulance Victoria at random, as an example to consider, but there are many emergency services posting similar stories on their own sites, official Facebook pages etc. Just check out your own and see what you think.
What do you think? If no consent was obtained to publish this would you consider it a breach of confidentiality or is it vague and anonymous enough not to be a problem?
Would your own hospital be very happy if you had published the same information on Facebook regarding a patient you had cared for that shift?
Im not sure about this…is it a double standard or just simply giving out information of public interest?
Let me know your own thoughts on this, can you find other examples?……