Coronavirus patients urged to waive confidentiality: ‘Being diagnosed not a crime, stigma’
MANILA, Philippines – Three organizations of doctors and lawyers are calling for the waiver of confidentiality of patients’ medical condition to help the government contain the spread of COVID-19.
On Sunday, April 5, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Philippine Medical Association (PMA), and the Philippine College of Surgeons (PCS) issued a joint statement “earnestly [making a] request” to individuals with COVID-19 and patients under investigation (PUI) for the disease to "voluntarily waive" the confidentiality of their medical condition.
The doctors’ and lawyers’ groups also asked the government – particularly the Department of Health (DOH) – to “prudently” use and “promptly” share the said medical information to allow the government to effectively take precautionary measures against COVID-19.
“Being diagnosed as COVID-19+ is not a sin, a crime, or a stigma… Existing laws and rules grant the government sufficient authority and basis to lift the confidentiality of the medical condition of COVID-19+ patients and PUI’s,” the joint statement said. (READ: Gov’t warns vs discrimination of frontliners, coronavirus patients and suspected cases)
According to the IBP, PMA, and PCS, concealing the true medical condition of COVID-19 patients and PUIs would be risky for health workers and the people with whom the patients have made contact.
“We empathize with the COVID-19+ patients and they and their families should be given support, understanding, compassion, and protection. We reiterate our call that they should not be discriminated against,” said the doctors and lawyers.
“We, however, pray that their tragedy be turned into heroism by their honesty and voluntary waiver of confidentiality of their medical condition for the greater good. By being candid, the COVID-19 patients and PUI’s will help most their family members, friends, co-workers and those they were close with,” they added.
IBP, PMA, and PCS then cited Article III, Section 3 of the Code of Ethics of the Medical Profession, which states physicians shall keep “highly confidential” whatever is disclosed to their patients “except when required by law, ordinance, or administrative order in the promotion of justice, safety, and public health.”
This is backed by the DOH’s Health Privacy Code Implementing the Joint Administrative Order No. 2016-0002, which states that “in case of emergency, where time is of the essence, disclosure may be made even without court order.”
The code says confidentiality can be lifted “when the public health and safety so demand” and “when the patient waives this right.”
The Philippines has so far recorded a total of 3,094 COVID-19 cases, with several of whom not being immediately honest about their symptoms, history of travel, or exposure to a positive patient.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he “strongly” supports the joint call of the IBP, PMA, and PCS on the waiver of confidentiality of COVID-19 patients and PUIs’ medical condition.
“This will enable other people they have been in close contact with to take the necessary precautions or remedial measures to protect themselves, without having to further burden the DOH with the tedious task of contact tracing,” Gueverra said in a statement.
“Both the Philippine Medical Association and the Data Privacy Commission provide the ethical and legal basis for this action in times of public health emergency, and the DOJ affirms its validity,” he added. – Rappler.com