By Nico Strydom
The Covid-19 pandemic brought along an increasing number of ethical and legal issues, especially with regard to patient-doctor confidentiality.
Solidarity’s Occupational Guild for Health practitioners did some research about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on patient-doctor confidentiality.
Doctors have to explain to patients how the measures put in place to combat the spread of the virus affect their confidentiality, says Prof David McQuoid-Mason of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
In an article by McQuoid-Mason recently published in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) he wrote that doctors should inform their patients that certain acts and common law require them to transgress the confidentiality rule, especially when it comes to protecting third parties and if it is in the public interest.
The National Health Act (Act 61 of 2003) stipulates that the private and sensitive information of a patient shall not be disclosed to another person, unless the patient gives his or her permission or the health-care practitioner can justify its disclosure.
“Covid-19 is an example of a legal obligation to report a notifiable disease to the designated health authority where the disease poses a risk to the community at large,” says McQuoid-Mason. Covid-19 has been declared a notifiable disease and is subject to extensive regulations in terms of the disaster management act to prevent it from spreading in South Africa.
McQuoid-Mason points out that should a doctor (or laboratory) take a sample from a patient to test for Covid-19, the doctor (or the laboratory) should record the name, identity or passport number, residential address and cell phone number of the patient and obtain a copy or photo of their passport, drivers licence and ID. This information together with all information regarding probable contacts of the person tested must be submitted to the director general of health for entry in the Covid-19 tracing data base created in terms of the regulations.
“Doctors should inform patients that although they have to send personal information about their patients and copies of their patients’ documents to the director general of health, such information will be kept confidential. The information may also not be revealed by persons not authorised to do so or unless it is necessary to avoid the epidemic from spreading. Doctors should also inform their patients that any other information obtained through their consultations and that is not relevant to the Covid-19 preventive measures or that must not be disclosed in terms of any other legislation, will be kept confidential.”