PRESERVING PRIVACY IN A SMALL COMMUNITY

June 12, 2015

A town of about 20,000, Collingwood, Ont. is fairly small. By comparison, Toronto—the closest, large, metropolitan city—has a population of nearly three million.

Community hospitals like Collingwood’s have many advantages. They’re relatively small, which may make them less intimidating. There’s also a sense of community. In fact, small, local hospitals can even feel friendly.

However, unique challenges exist too. One of these is privacy and patient confidentiality. In Toronto, or New York City for example, it’s common to care for people and never see them again. Or, if one’s paths do cross at a later date outside the hospital setting, it’s likely that patients and care providers won’t recognize each other.

With such a small population, it’s different in Collingwood. This makes protecting patients’ privacy and confidentiality that much more challenging in certain situations.

For example, I often run into patients in the community, including at the grocery store, the pharmacy, the gym, or the local coffee shop and we recognize each other. This can make it difficult to separate one’s personal and professional life, because encounters like this commonly happen several times a week, or maybe even more than once a day.

It’s obviously not appropriate to ignore one’s patients in the community. Nor is it proper to blur the professional line and be too friendly.

Nonetheless, despite its challenges, working and living in the same small community is a privilege that’s also rewarding. Perhaps it comes down to striking a balance between being a professional, yet, at the same time, a caring, compassionate human being in the hospital, as well as in one’s community.

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