“For us doctors and nurses, the privacy of patients is sacred... No doctor or nurse shall announce a patient’s illness. It is a violation of law and ethical standards.”--Dr. Wyben Briones at Vicente Sotto hospital, April 16, 2008

WHEN Dr. Wyben Briones owned up the profession’s mantra of confidentiality to news reporters more than 10 years ago, the local medical community was stung with the embarrassment over the “rectum canister scandal.”

A video clip was passed from phone to phone and uploaded on YouTube, showing doctors and nurses at the operating room of Vicente Sotto Medical Center in Cebu City laughing “boisterously” as a surgeon removed a perfume canister from the rectum of a homosexual. Breach of the male patient’s privacy was clear even though his face was not shown. His plight was announced to the world as news outlets across the globe picked up the story.

Last Feb. 8, in the Tuburan, Cebu district hospital, while a patient howled, bloodied from multiple gunshots, a nurse took a video of his agony and passed on the clip to three other nurses who circulated it on social media. Another breach of the patient’s privacy, though the story had less human interest and didn’t make it to the world press.

Sanctions, victims

Two doctors and a nurse were suspended for 90 days in the Sotto scandal; it was not known how their case before the ombudsman was resolved. Three nurses were suspended for two days over the Tuburan fiasco.

The latest flap over breach of privacy pales compared to the 2008 Sotto furor, not just on the latter’s bizarre part also on identity of victims and nature of injury.

The victim in the Sotto case, a gay who called himself “Janjan,” didn’t commit any crime. A lovemaking in the bedroom led to the freak accident, which ended up in the Sotto operating room. The unusual cause of injury drew a horde of medical students and other curiosity-seekers who heard about the spectacle that was about to unfold.

In contrast, the victim in the Tuburan case was a drug suspect who allegedly resisted arrest. With the unwritten policy of government towards anyone involved in illegal drugs, he was highly unlikely to get sympathy from hospital staff. And that helped draw flak over the published video.

Publicizing: the culprit

Someone at the Sotto O.R. shouted “Baby boy!” when the canister was being pulled out. Guffaws and cheers greeted the remark. Still, that would’ve been less of the scandal that it evolved into had the video not been spread. Same thing with the Tuburan fiasco. The publicizing was the offense.

The video-taking at Sotto could’ve been explained; the hospital is a teaching school. What magnified the alleged omission in hospital functions at Tuburan was the uploading of the video in social media. The issue of neglect in saving the patient, which doctors had to explain in their defense, became more noticeable after images of the man writhing in pain circulated.

Resisting the temptation

The Tuburan hospital chief cited the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10173). The law refers to disclosure in the “processing of sensitive and personal information” and the personal information includes “health and sexual life” of the patient.

But “processing” of information that doctors and nurses do rarely includes photo-taking and video recording. The Tuburan chief of hospital even said he bans phones when personnel are on duty. They don’t need to take photo or video while treating the patient. Without the images, doctors and nurses wouldn’t have to resist social media’s temptation to break one “core duty”: confidentiality.