Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Ethical Issues in Case Study Publication: ‘Making Our Case(s)’ Ethically

As chaplains develop richly detailed case studies for publication, ethical questions about case study construction and publication are emerging. Concerns about seeking patients’ permission to publish material about them suggest additional questions and raise broad confidentiality and privacy issues. Confidentiality-related practices in health care and psychotherapy provide the most extensive guidance for chaplains, but healthcare chaplaincy has roots in religious and professional traditions with distinct notions of confidentiality that deserve consideration. Single case studies do not appear to be ‘‘research’’ requiring informed consent, yet their publication exposes patients to some risk of harm. Obtaining the patient’s=‘‘case study subject’s’’ permission to publish, disguising non-essential information, and allowing the patient to review the case study can mitigate the risks. Striking a balance between protecting patients and providing sufficient detail to make case studies useful is a central ethical challenge of case study publication.