In a large proportion of health care research based on the retrospective review of records, minimal breach of patient confidentiality appears to be inevitable. This occurs at initial identification of and access to the chart, selected on the basis of the condition under investigation, and while individual identifiability can be blocked at subsequent stages, at this point it does occur. Prospective individual consent is impractical because often neither the desirability nor the specific subject of the research is known at the time of making the record, and retrospective patient tracing to obtain it is often impossible. I argue that the benefit of the research outweighs the minimal breach of confidentiality, and that in my own jurisdiction, this appears to be envisaged and accepted in Canadian law.
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