On more than one occasion I’ve been heard to say “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” – consider the scenario of an unconscious (and anonymous) patient who has a mobile phone that you could unlock with a press of their thumbprint.
Here’s a noteworthy post from St. Emlyn’s blog by Simon Carley that discusses the legalities of doing so (with a UK slant);
I think the law of necessity would probably be the relevant principle to rely on in Australia –
perhaps Michael Eburn from the Australian Emergency Law blog would provide some commentary ? provides his view in the comments section below.
(and please encourage your patients to use the ‘Emergency ID’ feature of most modern mobile phones)
TLDR; Every situation is different – consider your patient’s expectation of confidentiality and the need to access this information pre-hospital if you’re going to do it.
See my post ‘https://emergencylaw.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/searching-the-unconscious-patient/‘. There I say ‘There is no need to try to access their phone…’ but that is too strong. If it is reasonable to access the phone in circumstances such as those identified by the author ie ‘where I can honestly say that I need to know information on that phone right there and then’ then necessity will be a defence. Necessity is a defence so it applies where the action taken may be an offence (such as that described in the article) but all things considered, including the motivation to act in the patient’s best interests in circumstances where the information is required urgently, it was reasonable to do what had to be done.
Thanks Michael, you replied faster than I could tweet you for an opinion !