Panel lets caring doctors off hook

17 January, 2017

CHENNAI: If a patient either dies or sustains a permanent ailment despite a doctor providing due care, the doctor cannot be held guilty of medical negligence, the national consumer disputes redressal commission, New Delhi, has said.  

The commission, quashing an appeal against a hospital in Chennai for medical negligence, underlined the legal principle that skill in medical practice differed from doctor to doctor. What matters, it said, was whether the doctor provided the patient treatment in consonance with the medical profession.  

P K Palanisamy informed the commission that his son, K P Mohanavelu, 39 years old at the time, had a running fever when he took him to Sakthi Hospital and Research Centre, Triplicane, on August 8, 2010. With the fever recurring more than a week later, Palanisamy again took Mohanavelu to the hospital, where doctors prescribed anti-malarial drugs but to no avail.  

The doctors then admitted Mohanavelu to the ICU and tested him for typhoid. They referred Mohanavelu to Government General Hospital on September 7. Mohanavelu died three days later and Palanisamy moved the state consumer disputes redressal forum, Chennai, seeking compensation for medical negligence.  

He said the doctors misdiagnosed the case as Mohanavelu had contracted the H1N1 virus. The doctors did not conduct swab tests for the virus. They had violated the Medical Council of India's code of ethics, he argued. When the state commission dismissed the petition, Palanisamy filed an appeal with the national commission.  

The hospital's counsel said it was not a case of misdiagnosis of H1N1. The doctors treated the patient with caution and care. Mohanavelu had a fever and cough but not a sore throat. According to the guidelines prescribed by WHO and the ministry of health and family welfare on "categorisation of Influenza A H1N1 cases during screening for home isolation, testing treatment and hospitalisation", the patient did not show any symptoms requiring a test for H1N1 infection.  

A bench of presiding member Ajit Bharihoke and member S M Kanitkar said the patient did not have a sore throat or blood in his sputum, so the doctors' provisional diagnosis was of suspected malaria, typhoid or viral fever.  

Mohanavelu's wife had admitted the patient was stable during discharge. After a short period, Mohanavelu developed symptoms of H1N1 infection, after which doctors tested him for the virus and referred him to Government General Hospital. The hospital had followed government and WHO guidelines, the bench said. Finding no negligence in diagnosis or treatment, it dismissed the appeal.