Confidential vs. Anonymous - What's the Difference?

confientialThe terms “confidentiality” and “anonymity” are used regularly for different types of activities here at Texas A&M University.  These activities includemedical testing, like HIV testing, research participation, filing of academic dishonesty reports, and more.  Before you go for a test, fill out a survey or report, or agree to participate in a research study, read over the following to better understand the differences between confidentiality and anonymity.

Confidential: 
Any time a person participates in a confidential test, research project, or crime investigation, the person will need to provide some personal informationabout himself/herself to whoever is conducting the test, project, or investigation.  The people collecting this personal information include medical personnel, a research team, or respective organization.  Personal information may include a name, phone number, address, birthdate, and/or social security number.  This information is NOT to be given to anyone not involved in the project, testing site, or organization.

Anonymous: 
When the term “anonymous” is used, a person gives no personal information about himself/herself and should not be asked for specific personal information that would give his/her identify away.  If the person needs to follow up to retrieve his/her medical results or provide additional information, a unique identifier, such as a number, will be given.  In anonymous cases, the individual’s responses or results cannot be linked to his/her identity.

Common questions:

I am planning to take a type of body fluid test (blood, saliva, etc.), but I am not sure if it is confidential or anonymous.  What should I do?
Ask someone who works for the organization or office whether the test is confidential or anonymous.  Legitimate sources should answer this question honestly and be able to explain their testing guidelines and restrictions.

I am told that a test is confidential, but I want to be kept anonymous.  What can I do?
Talk to the organization or person giving the test about your concerns.  For example, if the law states that a name is required, the organization needs to follow this requirement for funding and/or research reasons.

I am participating in a research study and was asked for my name and age.  Who will be given this information?
The only people who will have access to this information are the Principal Investigator and approved research study personnel.  In addition, representatives of regulatory agencies, such as Texas A&M University Human Subjects Protection Program, may also see your information.  Speak to the Principal Investigator of the project about your concerns and ask for a participant information sheet.

References
Antioch University New England. (2010, April 15). Terminology: Anonymity vs. confidentiality. Retrieved from http://www.antiochne.edu/hrc/terminology.cfm

Texas A&M University. (2011). Consent information. Retrieved from http://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects/resources/consentinfo

Texas A&M University. (2012). Aggie Honor System Office.  Retrieved from http://aggiehonor.tamu.edu/Descriptions/Cheating.aspx

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2010, June 8). If I get an HIV test, will anyone find out? Retrieved from http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/prevention/your-hiv-status/confidential-anonymous-testing/

 

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