It is rather human to blame everyone but themselves for even the most minute wrong that has altered the desired results.
We reside in a society leaning towards alternative medicine such as Ayurveda, naturopathy, homoeopathy, etc, therefore making it even more difficult for us to not only decipher modern medicine but most importantly, to trust in it.
Our human-self constantly demands results and does not value the needed time to show them the results especially in the case of allopathic medicine. For example, we have paracetamol with an expectation that we will see its effects in a given period of time. But what we forget is that our bodies react differently and take different time frames to heal. If sometimes we experience the side effects of a medicine, we brand it ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, not realising how our bodies function differently. When we must take time out and seek advice to understand the event, we instead jump to label that alteration ‘waste’ or ‘useless’.
But, recent times have shown a dramatic change of mindset and our society accepting medical science as a forefront treatment for this disastrous flu and the importance of medical professionals is now well understood. Yet, there have been plenty of situations where the kin held doctors responsible for the death of patients. They term it “negligence“.
The term ‘medical negligence’ is an omnibus one, which has come in vogue to refer to wrongful actions or omissions of professionals in the field of medicine, in pursuit of their profession, while dealing with patients. It is not a term defined or referred to anywhere in any of the enacted Indian laws. Instead of the thorny issues, this piece intends to be informative for easier understanding of what this loosely used term ‘medical negligence’ means to the common man and why we should pause its usage. It is important for us to notice the hardships faced by the doctors of this country and not pounce on them for what we (a common man) think is wrong, especially in such difficult times.
Recalling the Kasturba Hospital incident, wherein the media displayed appalling images of a passed patient’s body lying next to other patients attracted a lot of rage and the medical staff were titled negligent. However, what the media denied to show was the fact that the patient’s kin refused to take the body, the morgue was overflowing, and that the crematoriums were overcrowded. Thus, was it right for us to yet again loosely use the term negligence and blame doctors?
Another incident in a private hospital in Kolkata 2 years ago, wherein the death of a patient saw outrage from his community and the hospital was severely damaged, the security of fellow occupants compromised and the kin sought political help to further this activity. There are so many examples of such acts which take place regularly, yet there aren’t any existing laws to protect doctors and health facilities from such mishaps. So, the government authorities over here stand negligent towards the security of doctors.
During this entire pandemic, my countrymen forgot to question the government’s liability to ensure health infrastructure for us. Building a statue seemed a more appropriate expenditure of taxpayers money than to invest in healthcare. We forgot that when in need, 80% of our population will seek help from government hospitals. Our media houses too boasted about how pathetic hospitals are doing, not acknowledging the fact that doctors are overworked and underpaid. They have to make do with minimal infrastructure and provide the best possible care. That they are going down in numbers because they are susceptible to the infection due to close proximity. Are we still going to call them negligent?
Government hospitals, unlike government offices, are poorly maintained. Limited manpower and budget make it all the more difficult for them to function. It’s not an unusual sight where patients are overflowing, they are lying on the floor; sick, due to unavailability of beds. Ceiling leaks, terrible food, the unbearable odour is rather common.
A common being, able enough to have options between choosing his desired healthcare, would never set foot in a government hospital. We would approach private healthcare. And despite that, we would rant about its expense. Can we be blamed? Maybe not.
When healthcare is privatised, it automatically becomes a business where the sole motive would be profit. We cannot approach a private hospital and ask for capped prices. It is the responsibility of the government to mandate proper regulations and to balance the private healthcare industry.
Getting back to negligence: Let us understand this better through a relatable situation. My uncle has been admitted to a private hospital for a fairly basic surgery. For eg, removal of the appendix. All goes well and suddenly he begins to deteriorate and is put on life support and eventually dies. We are angry and confused as to how could such a simple surgery possibly go wrong. But what we need to discern is that everybody is different. Every patient reacts differently.
Our common comprehension cannot fathom the nuances of medicine. And therefore we react, we misbehave, we sue for negligence. The consequence of such acts does not only question the doctor’s future but also sets a wrong precedent.
Of course, there exist genuine cases of what we understand by medical negligence which is investigated by experts, but those cases are less than the falsely accused ones. We end up bullying our doctors, we end up ransacking hospitals, we end up physically assaulting them. We become inhuman. We think we understand medicine better than them. We so often self diagnose and end up seeking medical help when it’s too late. Are we to blame them every time our body let us down? Are we going to assault them every time there is a death? Why will doctors stay back in the country to help us when they can earn and serve better elsewhere? A doctor with his due diligence and application of his medical knowledge decides what is best for the patient. Even if the removal of an organ is necessary during surgery, he may do so to save the patient’s life.
Negligence is a lack of care. The guidelines pertaining to the standard of care differ depending on available resources. Errors of judgment do not necessarily imply negligence. If the most basic care is denied, only then can we claim negligence? Some examples of medical negligence are as follows:
Therefore, it is almost impossible for a layman to have an idea about what truly constitutes negligence. As citizens, it is our responsibility to demand not just basic but regulated health care from our government. We should not feel the need to approach a private system. England’s NHS is a prime example of how government regulated free healthcare works best for its public. We also need to behave responsibly and with respect to our healthcare providers.
But most importantly, we must educate ourselves and others around us that not every setback in our health is because of a doctors’ approach. We cannot demand the best care with the least possible expenditure; not yet. Our typical Indian mindset of ‘we know everything and we know it better’ needs an immediate change, and that change needs to happen now.