A statement by the Palawan Medical Society. | Photo courtesy of Dr. Rebs Andal

The Palawan Medical Society (PMS) called for an end to doctor shaming and cyberbullying in the wake of alleged unsubstantiated accusations that local physicians were involved in a plot to cheat the government-owned health insurance corporation.

This arose after a local private hospital was accused of proposing to classify a dead patient as a COVID-death in order for physicians to collect money from PhilHealth.

In a statement issued on July 3, the PMS warned the public to be cautious of conspiracy theories spreading on social media, particularly those alluding to physicians and medical health professionals. 

These theories included allegations that physicians are using COVID-19 diagnosis to earn money. The most widely held belief is that hospitals and physicians are working together with PhilHealth to profit off remittances, said the PMS.

Spreading conspiracy rumors, according to the PMS, may erode public confidence in the healthcare system, leading to patients avoiding appropriate treatment.

“Doctors and healthcare workers are at the frontlines of this pandemic. Bashing of healthcare professionals [on] social media, especially those assigned to patients afflicted with COVID-19, may lead to reluctance to treat such cases,” the PMS statement added.

A barrage of social media accusations on alleged fraudulent medical practices erupted after a local news outlet stated that physicians at Adventist Hospital Palawan (AHP) offered the relatives of a dead female patient the choice of reporting her death as due to COVID-19 rather than another cause.

The family claimed the patient’s antigen test came back negative, and they were certain she died as a result of bleeding from a botched abortion.

Dr. Rebs Andal, the director of the PMS, stated in an interview on Sunday that some local physicians who were unrelated to the AHP issue were also subjects of cyberbullying and social media speculations.

“Doon sa initial na post, may mga lumalabas doon sa comments na hindi na involved doon sa AHP. So may mga na-mention na pangalan, na may nangyaring similar sa kanila, pero sa ibang ospital,” he said.

He went on to say that losing confidence in physicians and healthcare workers may have far-reaching consequences, including a loss of faith in vaccinations and the whole healthcare system.

AHP responds to video clip
Meanwhile, the AHP said in a second statement on Sunday, June 4, that when it came to treating the patient, the hospital followed all current procedures. Despite this, the hospital refused to disclose any details about the event or the patient, citing national privacy and patient confidentiality rules.

On antigen testing, the AHP said their sensitivity varies but is “generally lower than laboratory-based RT-PCR tests”.

AHP said the Department of Health (DOH) emphasizes that RT-PCR remains the “gold standard” for clinical diagnostic identification of SARS-CoV-2, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Interim Guidelines for Antigen Testing for SARS-Cov-2.

As a result, the outcome of a patient’s antigen test must be confirmed by a laboratory-based RT-PCR test, particularly if the antigen test result is inconsistent with the clinical context of the patient, as determined by his attending doctors.

The Adventist Hospital also explained that only trained and competent doctors may diagnose a patient under its health-care system, regardless of the patient’s or guardian’s own judgment or evaluation.

It said the results are never left in the hands of the patient or his or her relatives, but are and should be based on the patient’s signs and symptoms, as confirmed by laboratory and testing professionals who perform diagnostic or screening tests for a condition.

When a physician diagnoses a patient with a condition, he or she does not place his or her personal judgment above that of the patient, but rather maintains the supremacy of medical integrity and the scientific method’s soundness, AHP further said.

AHP also stressed that no actions were carried out with the intent of defrauding the patient’s family or PhilHealth.

“There is no compensation paid to any disease, much more COVID-19 patients or their families either by Adventist Hospital Palawan or the government,” the hospital said.

“Our healthcare workers are duty-bound to obtain written consent from the patient or his or her family for further testing with the proper government health authorities, which are found to be necessary under the circumstances, consistent with the ethical considerations of the practice of medicine. This is for the reason that the hospital likewise needs to comply with its reportorial requirements with the proper health authorities and local government to further protect people in the communities in case of a potential diagnosis for Covid-19,” AHP added.

AHP also said their healthcare professionals worked hard to convey the dangers since the patient’s family and the community in which he or she grew up might be at risk.

Despite the fact that the patient’s clinical history has been thoroughly recorded, the AHP said it adheres to Republic Act No. 10173, also known as the Data Privacy Act of 2012. Hence, no medical information can be released unless the patient or his or her guardian signs a waiver for the release of information.

“In the matter at hand, there was no written consent from the patient’s guardian allowing the release of medical information, and therefore, the hospital will expose itself to violation of RA 10173 if and when it shares this information pertaining to the patient’s records,” it said.