Patient consent and confidentiality
BMJ’s policy is based on the UK’s Data Protection Act, the English common law of confidentiality, and the traditions of medical ethics.
- Any article that contains personal medical information about an identifiable living individual requires the patient’s explicit consent before we can publish it. We would like the patient to sign our consent form, which requires the patient to have read the article.
- If consent cannot be obtained because the patient cannot be traced then publication will be possible only if the information can be sufficiently anonymised. Anonymisation means that neither the patient nor anyone else could identify the patient with certainty. A consequence of any anonymisation is likely to be the loss of information/evidence. If this happens we will include the following note at the end of the paper: “Detail has been removed from this case description/these case descriptions to ensure anonymity. The editors and reviewers have seen the detailed information available and are satisfied that the information backs up the case the authors are making.” Such anonymisation might, at an extreme, involve making the authors of the article anonymous.
- If the patient is dead the Data Protection Act does not apply, but the authors should seek permission from a relative (as a matter of courtesy and medical ethics). If the relatives are not contactable we will balance the worthwhileness of the case, the likelihood of identification, and the likelihood of offence if identified in making a decision on whether we should publish without a relative’s consent.
- This policy applies to any identifiable medical information. The most obvious places where this occurs is in case reports, anecdotes, photographs, and multimedia files (e.g. video, audio). However, the issue may also arise in articles describing research if the numbers in some subgroups are very small.
- Our policy on obtaining consent for publication of pictures or videos of patients is a subset of our general policy on patient confidentiality. If there is any chance that a patient may be identified from a photograph or other static or moving image, or from its legend or accompanying text, we need the patient’s written consent to publication by BMJ.
- Images – such as x rays, laparoscopic images, ultrasound images, pathology slides, or images of undistinctive parts of the body – or multimedia files (e.g. video, audio) may be used without consent so long as they are anonymised by the removal of any identifying marks and are not accompanied by text that could reveal the patient’s identity through clinical or personal detail.
- An exception to this policy of needing consent for recognisable photographs of individuals is when we use photographs from picture agencies to illustrate news stories and other articles. We state where these photographs have come from and we rely on the fact that the agencies and their photographers have obtained the relevant permissions from the people shown in the photographs. If we doubt that someone photographed could have given consent – owing for example to severe mental illness or learning disability – we will use our discretion and avoid using such images.
Patient consent form
Please use our consent form for any image, multimedia file or description that needs consent to publication.
If the patient is a minor but capable of understanding what is being asked, please obtain a signed form from both the patient and his or her parent or guardian.
Please print out the form, fill in the details about the article, ask the patient or next of kin to sign the form, and submit it with the File Designation “Supplementary file for Editors only”.
Patient consent form (English)
Patient consent form (Arabic)
Patient consent form (Bengali)
Patient consent form (Chinese Simplified)
Patient consent form (Chinese Traditional)
Patient consent form (Dutch)
Patient consent form (French)
Patient consent form (German)
Patient consent form (Hebrew)
Patient consent form (Greek)
Patient consent form (Hindi)
Patient consent form (Italian)
Patient consent form (Japanese)
Patient consent form (Khmer)
Patient consent form (Korean)
Patient consent form (Portuguese)
Patient consent form (Romanian)
Patient consent form (Russian)
Patient consent form (Spanish)
Patient consent form (Thai)