THE National Privacy Commission (NPC) said the government needs to honor patient confidentiality for victims of the coronavirus (COVID-19), after the Palace declared the outbreak a public health emergency.

NPC said in a statement Tuesday that publicly revealing the identities of patients under investigation or confirmed to have the disease “could do more harm than good.”

“The DoH (Department of Health) will be walking a fine line in releasing a COVID-19 patient’s information to the public. Releasing patient information could produce fear and distress but may also make the people adopt the right precautions to stop the spread of the virus,” the NPC said.

It said that DoH has been careful with patient confidentiality and has been releasing information necessary to protect public health.

The commission said that the government must consider two factors in disclosing information: the potential harm to the patient and the potential damage to trust in health institutions.

NPC said revealing the identities of people under investigation or confirmed to have been diagnosed with COVID-19 could discourage the public from seeking testing, thereby increasing the difficulty in identifying additional cases.

“Any unnecessary disclosure of personal information may stunt government efforts to identify and test individuals with confirmed cases effectively and may have serious consequences, which could be far worse than the disease itself.”

Pertinent information that can be collected are those needed for contact tracing, according to the NPC, including travel history and frequented locations. The commission added that only contact tracing details should be disclosed to the public.

“We wish to emphasize that the Data Privacy Act does not prevent the government from doing its job. It follows that the DPA should not prevent government, especially public health entities, from processing personal and sensitive personal information when necessary to fulfill their mandates during a public health emergency.”

The NPC also called on the public and the media to be responsible in sharing information, and to confirm information with official data from the DoH prior to sharing. — Jenina P. Ibañez