Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Confidentiality Disclaimer at End of Email

This morning I received an email addressed to me about about a patient's intake.  Since I have been corresponding with the sender I opened the email. The salutation was directed at the person who received a Cc, in other words a copy of the email directed at me. Clearly the message was not for me, but it could be that the sender had made a mistake, intending to copy me on the message she turned around addressee 1 and 2.

How does that happen, I wondered and checked similarities in name. There were none, unless you consider my name has a P, and so does the copied addressee. Yet, in fact, my name was spelled Vanpraag, so the P was not exposed the way it is in Van Praag.

So I read the email and scrolled down to see more. The original sender doesn't use a disclaimer, but the addressee does.The first is a supplier of medical, and physical aids equipment, the second a representative of a hospital's rehabilitation center. The latter's sign-off includes a disclaimer, that the material in the email is confidential and only meant for the recipient. Unfortunate wording since I am the recipient, even though not the intended one.

My curiosity was triggered, naturally I'll reply to all, and do what's further requested in the disclaimer, "to let the sender know and destroy the email and attachments".
Oh, yes, the attached PDF contained all personal information about the patient whose name I won't disclose. To be honest I did scan the documents to see if there was mention of a patient whom I do represent, but that was not the case.

I have no intention to use the received data. With an overload of information that comes my way on a daily basis the name of the person in the care of the two correspondents has already been deleted from my memory bank. Still, I'm concerned. Making a booboo is easily done. And what if. What if the message really is seen by people who shouldn't?

Is it a good idea to send confidential material by email? The author of the blog Clinical Lawyer discusses the value of a disclaimer, and what it really means for patient and caregiver (or any other supplier of services to a client or patient).

So if most email isn’t secure, and confidential information shouldn’t be sent via email, why bother including a warning that confidential information sent to the wrong address should be destroyed? Isn’t it pointless? Well, sort of. But there are some good reasons why people choose to do so:
One possibility is that people are actually sending confidential information via unsecured email. Bad idea (see above).
Another possibility is that they don’t intend to send confidential information via email, but in the event that they make a mistake and do transmit confidential information they want to make sure that they have some sort of instruction in case the message strays. Again, it’s just not a good idea to send confidential information via email at any time.
I highly recommend reading the whole blog post, it's enlightening.
As for the emails —yes, a thread was sent growing and growing without either sender or recipient noticing my name as the main addressee— I will reply to all addressed and send them a link of the Clinical Lawyer blog.

Conclusion: f snail mail is too slow to for your liking, use a courier service, or FAX confidential material. Do make sure beforehand that the FAX machine is not located next to the water fountain or in the common room.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License