The inter-role confidentiality conflict in recruitment for clinical research

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 27 (5):565 – 587 (2002)
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Abstract

Recruiting patients into clinical research is essential for the advancement of medical knowledge. However, when the physician undertaking the care of the patient is also responsible for recruitment into clinical research, a situation arises of an inter-role breach of confidentiality which is distinguishable from other conflicts of interest. Such discord arises as the physician utilizes confidential information obtained within the therapeutic relationship beyond its primary objective, and safeguards ought to be observed in order to avert this important, and generally overlooked, problem. The moral worth of the pledge of confidentiality is based not on its innate value but on its being a promise on which subsequent interactions and disclosures are founded. Within the patient-doctor interaction, confidentiality is an important facet of the promised fidelity and, as such, a loose interpretation of the notion threatens the essence of the relationship, and any violation thereof requires compelling moral justification. To avoid conflict, patients' confidential information ought not be used for the purpose of recruitment, which needs to be undertaken through general education and non-directed appeals, and a preliminary consent to be approached for research should be obtained from the patient prior to her being identified as a suitable research subject. Securing this prior consent would avoid one source of potential, albeit unintended, coercion.

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