A dental expert was recently accused of breaching confidentiality by using a case study within one of his lectures. He had provided an expert report on behalf of a claimant in a litigation claim.

The claimant had been blinded in one eye following a dental operation. She became aware that the dental expert had used the facts of her case when a member of her legal team attended the expert’s lecture and recognised the case and then told her about it. Although the expert did not identify the patient by name, she was identifiable from the facts of her case as it was unique. The disclosure caused her a great deal of distress.  

As a result of the alleged breach of confidentiality, the patient reported the expert to the General Dental Council (GDC) amongst other regulators. The GDC decided to take no further action against the expert but confirmed that this did not mean that they condoned the action that he had taken.

The expert had clearly not identified the patient by use of her name but, as a result of the unique circumstances of the case, she was recognisable. It is no doubt common practice that experts, and even lawyers, use details of particular cases in order to provide learning for others. This case is however, a salutary reminder that even if the name of the patient is not included in the information being disclosed, the patient should not be identifiable from the circumstances or the facts of the case. Beware of a breach as otherwise clinicians risk referrals to professional regulatory bodies and the Information Commissioner.