Gone are the days where patients idolise doctors and hang on to every single word they say. Cases of patients suing doctors for medical negligence is rising at an alarming rate across the country. In 2009 the Supreme Court directed the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) in Hyderabad to pay `1 crore to a young engineer who became a paraplegic after a surgery went wrong. The medical team, without his consent, tried to remove a benign tumour in his chest resulting in damage connected to the spine, leaving the patient paralysed below the waist.
Similarly, in 2013, SC directed Advanced Medicare and Research Institute (AMRI) Hospital in Kolkata to pay `11.4 crore compensation to Dr Kunal Sinha for medical negligence, which led to his wife’s death.
This has set off a trend in medical malpractice suits against doctors in the country. Today, one in ten general physicians and one in five surgeons have some problem or issue with patients about their treatment.
Since doctors have a limited knowledge about legal procedures and are eager to settle issues out of court, it leaves them susceptible to paying inadequately high amount of money as compensation. “Unfortunately, doctors are not taught about legal proceedings while studying MBBS.
Since most doctors spend half their lives in establishing medical practice, they are unaware about the legal aspects. Also, they neither have the time nor the patience to deal with cases,” says Shailesh Ahluwalia, co-founder of Legal MD, which helps doctors deal with cases of medical negligence.
“Patients can even sue doctors over writing a wrong prescription. If this goes on, doctors will find it impossible to practise. These days, patients do not trust a single doctor’s opinion. They usually take a second opinion where the other doctor might give a slightly different diagnosis. This results in suspicion,” he says. As a result, doctors who are supposed to be focusing on treatment will instead be distracted by medico-legal cases.
The patients, on their part, feel that it is perfectly justified since they are completely entitled to protest against any misdiagnosis or surgical errors. Either way, doctor-patient trust takes a beating.
“When patients pay money from their own pocket for a treatment, they expect 100 per cent results. However, patients must understand that in medicine, the outcome can never be 100 per cent positive. Things can go wrong even under the most normal circumstances,” explains Dr M Subrahmanyam, a top anesthesiologist in the city.
Explaining that suing doctors is not always the solution, he said, “If I treat 1000 patients, one of them may have an issue. While walking on the road, there is a chance that one in every thousand people might get injured. Who will they sue then? Just because they know that there is a person responsible for this, they decide to sue.”
Dr Subrahmanyam also called for more trust among patients and doctors. “The main problem today is the lack of trust by patients on doctors. Patients are under the impression that doctors are always trying to rip them off. Even if they seek a second or a third opinion, other doctors will try different methods to achieve the same result. By consulting different doctors for the same issue, they are wasting time and money and all this time, their health will continue to deteriorate,” he adds.
So while patients continue to find fault with doctors’ diagnosis and doctors insist that they can’t guarantee best result, it is perhaps in the best interest of everybody if there more trust is established between both parties.