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Commentary

Enough with the doctor-shaming

Ramon Tulfo recently posted online a two-minute video captioned: “My driver bumped a six-year-old girl playing in a congested street of Navotas while we were on a convoy on the way back to our office at Ortigas Center, Pasig… My staff and I rushed the child to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) emergency room. The ER doctor… did not want to give the child first aid treatment, saying he didn’t want it recorded on video.”

Tulfo did not mention that, as shown in the video, he spewed expletives at the doctor when the physician said no video-taking was allowed.

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After only a day, the video amassed 2,600 comments and 1,500 shares. If the purpose of posting it was to incite public sympathy and to shame the doctor, Tulfo’s gambit only backfired, because majority of the comments criticized his arrogance and ignorance of the triage system and the law on patient privacy.

Tulfo’s aggressive stance was wrong on so many levels. Here’s why:

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  1. Videotaping patients in the hospital is a violation of patient privacy and confidentiality, per Republic Act No. 10173. In this situation, the patient was a minor whose mother never expressed consent and was, in fact, visibly upset at the situation being videotaped. There were also other patients in the ER whose right to privacy was being violated, not to mention the rights of healthcare workers who also did not consent to the video-taking.
  1. The PGH emergency room is under renovation, along with other areas in the hospital, including the OB admitting section. A memo had been sent months before to inform other hospitals of the situation. The planned renovation was even on the news to inform the general public. Thus, the ER obviously has limitations in accommodating patient volume. Moreover, the driver hit the child in Navotas—far from PGH in Ermita, Manila. There were a number of nearer hospitals. Why did Tulfo go all the way to PGH where the makeshift ER was at capacity?
  1. All hospitals make use of a triage system. Patients are assessed initially and classified according to whether their condition needs resuscitation, emergent, urgent, less urgent, or nonurgent care. The medical staff will act according to the need. The ER does not work on a “first come, first served” basis. A patient needing intubation to establish an airway, for example, will be always be attended to immediately versus a more stable patient with minor cuts and bruises, even if the latter came first.
  1. Intimidating and verbally abusing the ER physician is uncalled for and very unprofessional. Cusswords are not welcome in a place of healing. The ruckus Tulfo caused disturbed other patients in the ER, and even frightened the girl he brought along.
  1. Medical procedures and interventions should not be videotaped and shown to the public, because laypeople are unaware of the rationale behind them and may even misconstrue some necessary procedures as “cruel” instead of helpful. For instance, it’s difficult to insert an intravenous line into some dehydrated patients with collapsed veins; repeated insertions may prompt people to react negatively. A patient given a nasogastric tube may need it for decompression or for administration of feeding or medications, but inserting the tube is sometimes a difficult procedure. Laypeople may perceive the act as painful, even insensitive to the patient, when in reality it is life-saving.

The situation could have been handled efficiently and peacefully, but Tulfo’s unreasonable demands and abusive stance merely hindered the proper treatment of the patient.

How many incidents do we need to realize that we have to work hand in hand with the healthcare team, instead of using social media to debase healthcare workers?

Hospital policies exist for a reason. Procedures are done for a reason. When doctors interview patients for their medical history, they are trying to find out what caused the illness, not to make delays. We doctors want to correlate all the information along with physical exam and laboratory findings to arrive at the right diagnosis and treatment. In everything we do as physicians, we put the patient’s best interest at hand.

Trust the process, and if you have questions, ask your healthcare provider. Using social media will not resolve anything. If you have complaints, there are proper forums for that. Maliciously taking videos or treating healthcare workers with blatant disrespect is just wrong in any setting.

Enough with the doctor-shaming.

Thaddeus C. Hinunangan is a pathology resident at Philippine General Hospital.

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TAGS: doctors, emergency room, PGH, Tulfo
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