Is the privacy of information protected in a neonatal intensive care unit? An observational study


  • Roser Porta
  • Beatriz Ibáñez
  • Cristina Berenguer
  • Montserrat Roca
  • Clara González
  • Teresa Gómez
  • Vicente Molina


The respect to patient’s intimacy and confidentiality can be a challenge in the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) designed according to traditional standards (single big rooms with a number of cots and incubators located close one to each other).  Concerned about these topic, two members of the team designed a study to check the quality of the confidentiality in the NICU area, and to find out opportunities for education and improvement. This is an observational study performed during one month period. The observed team was not aware of the observations. During a total observation time of 147 hours, 25 situations of violation of the confidentiality were encountered. 48% (12/25) were comments spoken in loud voice about patients in the NICU area or in annexed areas, 24% (6/25) were related to leave medical documentation or computer screens available to anybody or to inform parents in a way that could be listened to parents of other babies, 12% (3/25) were phone conversations about patients in loud voice, 4% (1/25) were to answer questions to parents or relatives or other babies. The medical and personal information of the patients in the NICU is often exposed and shared with parents of other patients and non-related professionals.  The architectural design of the traditional NICUs, some socio-cultural uses in countries from Southern Europe and the difficulties in changing attitudes are the critical points to focus in to start a quality educational project to protect the right to intimacy and confidentiality of the small and vulnerable patients admitted to the NICUs.


Keywords: Privacy, confidentiality, NICU, family centered care