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Nelly Lim vs Court of Appeals Case Digest


In order that the disqualification by reason of physician-patient privilege be successfully  claimed, the following requisites should concur: (1) the privilege is claimed in a civil case; (2) the person against whom the privilege is claimed is one duly authorized to practice medicine, surgery or obstetrics; (3) such person acquired the information while he was attending to the patient in his professional capacity; (4) the information was necessary to enable him to act in that capacity; (5) the information was confidential and if disclosed, would blacken the reputation of the patient.


Facts:

Juan filed a petition for annulment of his marriage with Nelly on the ground that the latter has been allegedly suffering from a mental illness called schizophrenia "before, during and after the marriage and until the present." During trial, Juan's counsel announced that he would present as his next witness Dr. Lydia Acampado, a Doctor of Medicine who specializes in Psychiatry. Said counsel forthwith orally applied for the issuance of a subpoena ad testificandum. Nelly's counsel opposed the motion on the ground that the testimony sought to be elicited from the witness is privileged since the latter had examined the Nelly in a professional capacity and had diagnosed her to be suffering from schizophrenia. Juan's counsel contended, however, that Dr. Acampado would be presented as an expert witness and would not testify on any information acquired while attending to Nelly in a professional capacity. The trial court denied the motion and allowed the witness to testify. Dr. Acampado thus took the witness stand, was qualified as an expert witness and was asked hypothetical questions related to her field of expertise. She neither revealed the illness she examined and treated Nelly for nor disclosed the results of her examination and the medicines she had prescribed.


Issues:

1. Was the information given by the physician in her testimony in open court a privileged communication?

2. Was there a waiver of the privilege?


Held:

1. No. The physician may be considered to be acting in his professional capacity when he attends to the patient for curative, preventive, or palliative treatment. Thus, only disclosures which would have been made to the physician to enable him "safely and efficaciously to treat his patient" are covered by the privilege. It is to be emphasized that "it is the tenor only of the communication that is privileged. The mere fact of making a communication, as well as the date of a consultation and the number of consultations, are therefore not privileged from disclosure, so long as the subject communicated is not stated." One who claims this privilege must prove the presence of these aforementioned requisites.

Dr. Acampado was presented and qualified as an expert witness. She did not disclose anything obtained in the course of her examination, interview and treatment of the petitioner; moreover, the facts and conditions alleged in the hypothetical problem did not refer to and had no bearing on whatever information or findings the doctor obtained while attending to the patient. There is, as well, no showing that Dr. Acampado’s answers to the questions propounded to her relating to the hypothetical problem were influenced by the information obtained from the petitioner. Otherwise stated, her expert opinion excluded whatever information or knowledge she had about the petitioner which was acquired by reason of the physician-patient relationship existing between them. As an expert witness, her testimony before the trial court cannot then be excluded.


2. Yes. While it may be true that counsel for the petitioner opposed the oral request for the issuance of a subpoena ad testificandum to Dr. Acampado and filed a formal motion for the quashal of the said subpoena a day before the witness was to testify, the petitioner makes no claim in any of her pleadings that her counsel had objected to any question asked of the witness on the ground that it elicited an answer that would violate the privilege, despite the trial court’s advise that said counsel may interpose his objection to the testimony "once it becomes apparent that the testimony, sought to be elicited is covered by the privileged communication rule." The particular portions of the stenographic notes of the testimony of Dr. Acampado quoted in the petitioner’s Petition and Memorandum, and in the private respondent’s Memorandum, do not at all show that any objections were interposed. Even granting ex gratia that the testimony of Dr. Acampado could be covered by the privilege, the failure to seasonably object thereto amounted to a waiver thereof. (Nelly Lim vs. CA, G.R. No. 91114. September 25, 1992)

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