COVID-19 patients to waive confidentiality
MANILA, Philippines — No less than the country’s top medical and legal groups have called on authorities to disclose the identities of COVID-19 patients and so-called persons under investigation (PUIs), saying many patients continue to withhold their true medical history thus endangering the thinning ranks of healthcare workers.
The Philippine Medical Association and Philippine College of Surgeons together with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines appealed to COVID-19 patients and PUIs to voluntarily waive the confidentiality of their medical information and inform those they have recently been in close contact with.
They also urged the Department of Health to “prudently use and promptly share the medical information” to all concerned so they could take precautionary and remedial measures. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he “strongly” supported the call and affirmed the “ethical and legal basis” laid down by the Philippine Medical Association and the Data Privacy Commission to justify waiving the medical confidential rule “in times of public health emergency.”
He also strongly supports the call of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines on COVID-19 positive individuals and PUIs “for the waiver of confidentiality of their medical condition,” Guevarra told reporters on Sunday.
“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 Department of Health with the tedious task of contact tracing,” he added.
The three medical and legal groups made the appeal in a joint statement on April 4, three weeks since the enhanced community quarantine to contain the outbreak.
In justifying their call to waive the medical confidentiality rule, they reported increasing incidents in which COVID-19 patients continue to withhold their true medical condition when seeking treatment or hospital admission “thereby compromising the health institutions and the health workers,” many of whom have died or fell ill from the infectious disease.
Even without the individual waiver, they said, existing laws and rules grant the government “sufficient authority and basis” to lift the confidentiality of the medical condition of COVID-19 patients and PUIs.
These include Republic Act 11332 or the 2018 Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases, which makes illegal the “non-cooperation of persons and entities” in times of public health emergencies.
The confidentiality of a patient’s medical data and details is “not absolute” and can be lifted “when the public health and safety so demand” or “when the patient waives his right,” the three groups pointed out.
Article III Section 3 of the Code of Ethics of the Medical Profession, they said, exempts a physician from keeping private and highly confidential a person’s medical information “when required by law, ordinance or administrative order in the promotion of justice, safety and public health.”
The Health Privacy Code specifying the Joint Administrative Order No. 2016-0002 or the privacy guidelines for the implementation of the Philippine Health Information Exchange, also allows that “in case of emergency where time is of the essence, disclosure may be made even without court order.”
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