MANILA - Doctors and lawyers on Saturday urged COVID-19 patients and persons suspected of carrying the virus to waive the confidentiality of their medical condition to help authorities conduct timely contact tracing.
The Integrated Bar of Philippines, the Philippine Medical Association and the Philippine College of Surgeons issued the call following increasing incidents of COVID-19 patients seeking treatment without divulging their true condition, compromising health workers.
“Being diagnosed as COVID-19 positive is not a sin, a crime, or a stigma. But it is inequitable and counter-productive for COVID-19 patients or PUIs (persons under investigation) to conceal their true condition, thereby possibly infecting health workers and depriving those with whom they have been in close contact the opportunity to take the necessary precautionary or remedial measures," the groups said in a statement.
The groups said the "confidentiality of a patient's medical data and details is not absolute" as it urged government to provide these to authorities with adequate safeguards.
“We reiterate our call that they should not be discriminated against. 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," they said.
The groups cited Article III, Section 3 of the Code of Ethics of the Medical profession which states that “the physician shall hold as private and highly confidential whatever may be discovered or learned pertinent to the patient…except when required by law, ordinance or administrative order in the promotion of justice, safety, and public health."
They also mentioned the Health Privacy Code, which provides "…in case of emergency, where time is of the essence, disclosure may be made even without court order.”
The groups added that confidentiality can be lifted “…b) when the public health and safety so demand; or c) when the patients waives this right…"
They warned that "non-cooperation" in times of public health emergencies is illegal under Republic Act 11332, or a law on policies on surveillance and response to notifiable diseases and epidemics.
"The present pandemic requires proactive and decisive steps that must be based on facts, science, and the law, not on politics, posturing, or partiality," they said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he "strongly" supports the groups' call.
"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," he said.
"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."
As of Saturday, the Philippines has recorded 144 deaths out of 3,094 cases of COVID-19. Fifty-seven patients have so far recovered.