GOC publishes guidance on disclosing confidential patient information

Move follows research that registrants lacked confidence to decide when to override confidentiality to ensure public protection

person driving
The General Optical Council (GOC) has published new guidance for optical professionals to help them respond to situations where they need to consider whether to disclose confidential information to ensure the protection of patients and the public.

The guidance was produced following research commissioned by the GOC that showed registrants found confidentiality to be a complex and confusing area, especially in relation to what to do if a patient’s eyesight is no longer adequate to drive.

The Vision and Driving research, which was conducted in October 2017, revealed that 56% said it was difficult to balance patient confidentiality with their duty to protect the public from harm. Seventy-two per cent of registrants said they would not feel comfortable informing the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVLA) if the patient could not or would not do it themselves.

The GOC highlighted that it consulted with registrants on the draft guidance in March to June 2019 and had received a “positive response,” with 84% of individual registrants stating that it would help them to understand when and how to apply their professional judgement to override patient confidentiality to protect the public from risk of harm.

Announcing the publication of the guidance, the GOC highlighted that the document does not create new requirements or give legal advice, and it should be read alongside the Standards of Practice for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians or the Standards for Optical Students.

The GOC’s director of strategy, Marcus Dye, explained: “We’ve listened to registrants’ feedback from both the research and consultation in order to develop new guidance which more clearly sets out our expectations of registrants’ responsibilities for disclosing confidential information in the public interest.

He added: “We know the area of vision and safe driving is a particularly difficult one for registrants, so we’ve included a flowchart in the guidance to provide them with more clarity on what to do if a patient’s vision is no longer adequate to drive. We hope the guidance will give registrants the confidence to decide when to override confidentiality to ensure public protection.”

Responding to the publication of the guidance, AOP policy director, Tony Stafford, said: “We welcome the new guidance from the GOC, which will help practitioners to balance patient confidentiality and the public interest. This can be a difficult area, and we had some concerns about the draft guidance the GOC consulted on last year. In particular, the section on reporting concerns to the DVLA was not as clear as it could have been. We’ve worked with the GOC on that and we’re pleased that the final guidance addresses most of our concerns. In particular, the final GOC guidance is now clearer on the key point of when to refer a patient to the DVLA without consent – and is consistent with the approach of other regulators such as the General Medical Council.”