Surrogate Decision Makers and Proxy Ownership: Challenges of Privacy Management in Health Care Decision Making

Jennifer J. Bute, Sandra Petronio, Alexia M. Torke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations


This study explored the communicative experiences of surrogates who served as decision makers for patients who were unable to convey health information and choices about treatment options. Drawing on assumptions from communication privacy management theory (Petronio, 2002), 35 surrogates were interviewed to explore how they navigated the role of guardian of patients’ private health information while the patient was hospitalized. This research determined that not only are surrogates guardians and thereby co-owners of the patients’ private health information, they actually served in a “proxy ownership” role. Surrogates described obstacles to both obtaining and sharing private health information about the patient, suggesting that their rights as legitimate co-owners of the patients’ information were not fully acknowledged by the medical teams. Surrogates also described challenges in performing the proxy ownership role when they were not fully aware of the patient’s wishes. Theoretical and practical implications of these challenges are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-809
Number of pages11
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 3 2015


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication

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