July 21, 2008

Do doctors need special protection?

Home minister RR Patil has promised that a special Act would soon be enacted to protect doctors, hospitals and clinincs from attacks by angry patients. The Act is said to be based on a similar law passed by the Andhra Pradesh Assembly.

There have been mixed reactions about the Act in the medical community. While some doctors have expressed gratitude, many wonder what the need is to enact a law that creates special provisions for a privileged class.

No one seems to be addressing the question why the consumer has turned against the men in white. The reasons for violence against medical professionals stem from the fact that patients are suspicious of the doctors’ intentions and methods of the working.

Increasing incidences of Caesarean surgery and hysterectomies, widespread misuse of technology and the feeling of being taken for a ride, have led to patient outrage. Medical negligence is difficult to prove and consumer courts take years to give justice. These, coupled with doctors not opining on others’ mistakes on record, make the common man want to take law into his own hands.

Frustration and a feeling of helplessness to cope with corruption in the enforcement mechanism add to patient discontent. Transparency in attitude, counseling in the treatment of patients and offering a second opinion when a case is complicated are often never offered to patients, who then believe that the doctor has no time to talk to him, except when collecting his fees. Lack of knowledge on how the human body works and media reports on how there is a ‘pill for very ill’ makes many believe that not curing a patient is negligence.

The media has contributed significantly to doctor-bashing recently. Stories of alleged negligence with a little masala, and a sobbing relative after the death of a person help increase their TRPs. Watching a mob attack a clinic or hospital on TV makes many feel that this can be done with impunity, as police often watch helplessly.

What Patil forgets is that laws do not make for good compliance by people at large. Existing statutes are more than adequate to take care of vandals and those who break the law. The alternative to enforcement by police and prompt delivery of justice cannot be another law.

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