The ethics of sharing: Nealth social worker concerns about recording in shared records

Isobel R. Cairns1

1 The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142,

Health social workers come across across a variety of sensitive information in the course of their work, and some information – such as details of abuse or trauma, alcohol or drug dependence, or mental health problems – is particularly sensitive. They may be reluctant to record this information in shared health records where it can be accessed by multiple health providers. Yet, comprehensive records are important to ensure appropriate and beneficial care is provided to a client. Do health social workers face a tension between protecting their client’s privacy and ensuring good care?

This qualitative empirical ethics study aimed to investigate these concerns. The presentation will draw on eleven interviews with health social workers across New Zealand’s North Island. Participants reported that keeping records had some ethical complications, but they all promoted the sharing of details that were necessary and relevant to a client’s healthcare. This core principle guided good recording practice, as well as principles of epistemic accuracy and avoiding perjorative judgements. Residual moral concerns indicate that there are occasionally genuinely conflicting obligations when recording sensitive information.

This research received funding from New Zealand’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s Privacy Good Research Fund.


Isobel Cairns holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Philosophy and a Graduate Diploma in Psychology from Victoria University of Wellington. She completed her Masters of Public Health at The University of Auckland in 2016.

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

The AABHL seeks to foster a distinctive Australasian voice in bioethics, and provide opportunities for international engagement through its membership, journal and conferences.

Members come from all the contributing humanities, social science and science disciplines that make up contemporary bioethics.

Many members have cross-disciplinary interests and all seek to broaden the dialogues in which all members of the wider community ultimately have an interest.

The AABHL is a supportive, creative and challenging community that provides a rich source of continuing academic refreshment and renewal.

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