Finding a doctor to shadow is one of the most rewarding and educational experiences you can find while you’re a premed, but expect HIPAA restrictions and other privacy concerns to play a big part in the experience. Doctors, especially private practitioners, have a lot to lose, so don’t be surprised if you’re restricted in what you can do while you’re shadowing.
Doctor-patient confidentiality can easily be compromised when you shadow a health care professional. When a person visits the doctor, the patient trusts that the doctor has been through the difficult and long training that is required of a doctor. The patient is also aware of the extensive medical training the staff at the office has been through. Even the receptionist has to have specific training in confidentiality. The patient expects privacy and respect from everyone in the practice, including you, the shadowing premed.
You can’t do these things while you shadow a doctor (But there’s a silver lining)
The respect for privacy between the patient and doctor allows the patient to be open and honest with all aspects of their health. This can include very private and/or embarrassing issues the person may be having. It’s important to understand that the doctor will put in place restrictions on what you can’t do. Here are several examples:
- You might not be able to sit inside the exam room
- You may not be able to speak directly with the patient
- You can’t see patient records
- You can’t take a patient history
- You shouldn’t be directly involved in the conversation around a patient’s condition
- You absolutely can’t share any personal information with anybody for any reason
Notice that many of the items on that list aren’t absolute “cannot” restrictions. In the end, what you do inside the practice is up to the doctor. Sometimes the doctor will decide that it’s perfectly fine for you to sit in the exam room and participate, so follow the doctor’s lead, communicate with the doctor openly, and they will tell you where the boundaries are.
Continue Reading: Silver Lining — The four things you can (and should) do while you shadow a doctor