April 17, 2011

Hyderabad docs run for 'cover' as legal cases soar

The city touted as a world-class healthcare hub now has adopted a new 'Western' practice — legal cases of medical negligence are routinely slapped on hospitals and doctors.

For the first time in city's healthcare history, doctors and hospitals are running for cover, literally. If five-star swanky hospitals now have lawyers on their payrolls to fight cases filed against them, 90 per cent of the city doctors are now covered under the 'Professional Protection and Welfare' policy offered by private insurers and even the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

The reason for this legal or insurance cover (insured doctors enjoy a cover of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 25 lakh along with legal support) is rooted in a new-age healthcare reality. As per IMA's state chapter's records, the number of medical negligence cases filed against doctors and hospitals has gone up by 200 times in the past five years. During the same period, hospitals and doctors have paid up a whopping Rs 3 crore in the form of compensation to 'wronged' patients. About 100 cases have been settled in the last few years, 25 of which have seen rulings against doctors or hospitals. Over 100 medical negligence cases are at present pending in the courts.

Grievances are related to inflated bills and attendants of deceased alleging negligence as a reason for death. "When things go wrong, the first thing they do is hire a lawyer," says a doctor. While the spurt in cases is being attributed to better awareness, the legal fraternity is also said to be partly responsible for the same. Doctors say that lawyers actively pursue or look out for cases of medical negligence and even offer deals to patients wherein they are not charged any fee. "If they win the case, the lawyer takes 50 per cent of the compensation the patient is awarded," says a doctor.

City hospitals on an average are recording a minimum of one to two cases a month and some have gone on a defensive treatment track, albeit at the cost of the patient. "We are prescribing a battery of diagnostic investigations, which is increasing the healthcare costs enormously and burden is invariably passed on to the patients," says a senior official of a private hospital, which has 25 cases pending against it in courts. The investigations, officials say, are to gather evidence for a treatment that might go wrong and land them in court.

"This year, among the three doctors suspended by the AP Medical Council, one was (suspended) for medical negligence. But unfortunately, all the three doctors got stay orders from court," says Dr K Ramesh Reddy, vice-chairman, AP Medical Council, which has an ethical and malpractices committee dealing with matters of complaints against doctors. While a majority of cases are filed against private hospitals (sources say most cases are against 10-12 specific tertiary care hospitals), doctors from government hospitals have also 'professionally' insured themselves.

Link: Original Article

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