As medicine is not an exact science, the outcome of a treatment cannot be guaranteed. So can a doctor be held responsible merely because the treatment does not give the desired result?
Case Study: Due to an accidental fall at home on June 14, 2012, Satender Kumar fractured his right leg. He was rushed to Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi where Dr Raju Vaishya operated upon him the same day. A rod was inserted in his leg during the surgery, and he was discharged after a few days. Subsequently, on May 23, 2013, Kumar met with an accident and suffered a fractureof the left leg. He was again taken to the same hospital and operated upon by the same doctor, and discharged after three days.
Satender was not satisfied with the surgeries. On April 9, 2014, he underwent another surgery on the right leg and was discharged after a couple of days. Satender claimed that from January 2016 he suffered severe pain in the left leg and found it difficult to walk . He again consulted Dr Vaishya who had initially operated upon him. He also consulted other doctors, who advised him to get the left leg reoperated. He underwent this surgery at Saket City Hospital under Dr Sadhoo.
Later, in August 2016, Satender filed a consumer complaint before the National Commission against Indraprastha Apollo Hospital and Dr Raju Vaishya. Satender claimed that he had been unable to attend work for four years. He alleged that the rod inserted in his right leg got bent and there was negligence in treating him. He sought a compensation of Rs 2 crores for the financial loss and suffering caused to him.
The commission observed that the negligence had occurred in 2012 but the complaint was filed four years later. The commission also observed that the discharge summary recorded by Dr Vaishya at Indraprastra Apollo Hospital revealed that Satender was comfortable at the time of discharge. The subsequent operation in 2014 was for non-union of the fracture even though the implant was in place. During this surgery, bone grafting was done. After the bone had united, the rod was removed. The commission concluded that there was no evidence to show that the rod had got bent or that Dr Vaishya had been negligent.
Satender was 66 years old, and had a history of hypertension and heart problem. Besides, non-union of a bone is known to occur in fracture surgeries, and could be due to various health and medical reasons. So it would be improper to jump to an inference that there was medical negligence here.
The test of negligence is determined on the basis of the qualification of the doctor and procedure adopted for treating the patient. Dr Vaishya was a qualified orthopaedic surgeon and had followed the standard and accepted procedure and practice while treating and operating upon Satender.
Accordingly, by its order of November 30, the commission held that there was no negligence. The commission deprecated the tendency to blame a doctor without any justification, merely because the outcome of the treatment was not favourable.
Conclusion: A doctor has to treat according to standard and accepted norms based on medical knowledge existing at the relevant time. The success or the failure of the treatment or its outcome is irrelevant.