Family and friends as healthcare advocates: Dilemmas of confidentiality and privacy

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The presence of 'informal' healthcare advocates during physician visits represents a unique privacy challenge. When these family members or friends participate in a patient's visit with the physician, they are often confronted with numerous privacy dilemmas. Framed within the theory of Communication Privacy Management, this study examined the role of friends and family members as informal healthcare advocates in the course of physician visits. A semi-structured survey instrument was used to collect data from 123 volunteer participants at a large midwestern university. Four qualitative themes emerged from the data that illustrate the way in which family members and friends dialectically manage issues of privacy regulation. In the first theme, participants described how they coped with violating a privacy boundary or protected the health of the patient. A second theme was discovered in which the advocates described their role as altruistic supporters. In the third theme, results showed that information seeking was directed away from the patient and more toward the advocate. The patient became superfluous to the dialogue. Finally, the fourth theme describes how patients positioned responsibility on the advocate to assist them in the decision-making about their health issues.

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Journal of Social and Personal Relationships

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