With the rapid rise of medical emergencies during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, concerns have been raised on the capacity of hospitals, clinics and and medical facilities to absorb the influx of patients. A number of hospitals already issued statements that they have exceeded their capacities. There are legitimate concerns about hospitals turning away patients by reason of overcapacity.
It is illegal for hospitals to refuse patients in emergency or serious cases. The penalty for any official, medical practitioner or employee of the hospital or medical clinic who violates the prohibition may be punished with imprisonment of not less than 6 months and 1 day, but not more than 2 years and 4 months.
There might be an erroneous impression that Republic Act No. 10932, which strengthens the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law, prohibits only the requirement of deposits before a patient may be treated or confined. However, R.A. 10932 provides that in emergency or serious cases, it shall be unlawful for any proprietor, president, director, manager or any other officer and/or medical practitioner or employee of a hospital or medical clinic:
- to request, solicit, demand or accept any deposit or any other form of advance payment as a prerequisite for administering basic emergency care to any patient, confinement or medical treatment of a patient in such hospital or medical clinic or
- to refuse to administer medical treatment and support as dictated by good practice of medicine to prevent death, or permanent disability, or in the case of a pregnant woman, permanent injury or loss of her unborn child, or noninstitutional delivery.
An EMERGENCY is a condition or state of a patient wherein based on the objective findings of a prudent medical officer on duty for the day there is immediate danger and where delay in initial support and treatment may cause loss of life or cause permanent disability to the patient, or in the case of a pregnant woman, permanent injury or loss of her unborn child, or would result in a noninstitutional delivery.
A SERIOUS CASE refers to a condition of a patient characterized by gravity or danger wherein based on the objective findings of a prudent medical officer on duty for the day when left unattended to, may cause loss of life or cause permanent disability to the patient, or in the case of a pregnant woman, permanent injury or loss of her unborn child.
BASIC EMERGENCY CARE is the response to a situation where there is urgently required medical care and attention, and shall include procedures required for initial diagnosis, use of equipment and supplies in sufficiently addressing the emergency situation, considering the welfare of the patient. It also includes the necessary medical procedures and treatment administered to a woman in active labor to ensure the safe delivery of the newborn.
A hospital is a facility devoted primarily to the diagnosis, treatment and care of individuals suffering from illness, disease, injury or deformity, or in need of obstetrical or other medical and nursing care. It shall also be construed as any institution, building or place where there are facilities and personnel for the continued and prolonged care of patients. A medical clinic is a place in which patients can avail of medical consultation or treatment on an outpatient basis.
Transfer of Patient. If by reason of inadequacy of the medical capabilities of the hospital or medical clinic, the attending physician may transfer the patient to a facility where the appropriate care can be given, after the patient or his next of kin consents to said transfer and after the receiving hospital or medical clinic agrees to the transfer. When the patient is unconscious, incapable of giving consent and/or unaccompanied, the physician can transfer the patient even without his consent. The transfer shall be done only after necessary emergency treatment and support have been administered to stabilize the patient and after it has been established that such transfer entails less risks than the patient’s continued confinement.
It is important to note that specifically for the Covid-19 crisis, Congress recently passed the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act” (Republic Act No. 11469), granting temporary emergency powers to the President, including the power to direct the operation of privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities. If the hospital or health facility unjustifiably refuses or signifies that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises for the specified purposes, the President may take over their operations. [See Power to Take-Over Private Businesses during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Crisis]
[Source: Republic Act No. 10932, An Act Strengthening the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law by Increasing the Penalties for the Refusal of Hospitals and Medical Clinics to Administer Initial Medical Treatment and Support in Emergency or Serious Cases, Amending for the Purpose Batas Pambansa Blilang 702, Otherwise Known as “An Act Prohibiting the Demand of Deposits or Advance Payments for the Confinement or Treatment of Patients in Hospitals and Medical Clinics in Certain Cases”, As Amended by Republic Act No. 8344, and for Other Purposes]