If you were watching the news yesterday, you probably saw that a patient in Lahore was diagnosed with Dengue Fever. I wish that is all you knew. Unfortunately the media went out of its way to tell you the ethnicity, travel history, local address and even the name of the patient!
Patients have a fundamental right to privacy. They have a right to seek medical attention without running the risk of making their most personal issues public.
In the case of some infectious diseases, the individual’s right to privacy is partially offset by the public’s right to safety. Certain disease conditions such as Dengue Fever are designated ‘Notifiable’ by the Health authorities. Any doctor or diagnostic lab that comes across a patient of Dengue fever is required by law to notify Health Department officials immediately. This is a good idea. It allows Health officials to identify and predict disease trends, and helps them plan fumigation drives.
Unfortunately, there is a down side to this process, and it was on display yesterday. As the news of a Dengue positive patient made its way to various Health Department agencies, someone somewhere leaked it to the media.
Even that would have been fine, for the whole process is for the good of the public at large anyway. But no one needed to know the patient’s name. It did not add anything to the conversation, but it did cause a lot of distress to the patient.
Patient privacy should be everyone’s concern. It is a responsibility of the entire healthcare team, from doctors and nurses to lab personnel and Health Department officials. We must all do our part to make sure that none of our patients are harassed, and that their identities are kept confidential.
I wish whoever shared the information with the news agencies had taken a moment to delete the patient’s name. I wish media outlets had made an editorial decision to not disclose the patient’s name, but I suppose that is too much to ask.