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Doctors’ accountability

Updated August 12, 2015

CASES of serious malpractice or negligence by doctors are becoming a routine phenomenon and patients lack a forum where complaints can be registered for sincere follow up.

Almost everybody knows someone who has suffered due to doctors’ poor treatment. In some cases it stems from a lack of competence, and in others outright greed as the doctor in question prescribes many expensive tests simply in order to make money out of the patient. In this context, it is encouraging to see the Lahore Consumer Court award massive damages to a senior doctor for negligence in treating a newborn infant who had to subsequently be flown to London for a liver transplant.

Take a look: Liver damage: Consumer Court orders doctor to pay millions in damages

Consumer courts have awarded damages to medical practitioners in the past too, but the size of the award — Rs46 million — makes this a landmark judgement. Although the case is likely to go into appeal, it nevertheless sends out a positive signal to doctors that they ought to be careful when treating a patient and remember to put the patients’ health above their own pecuniary gains.

The fact that the case has been decided by the Consumer Court shows the limited avenues for redressal available to victims of malpractice or negligence.

The Punjab Healthcare Commission was set up after the case was registered in 2007, but to this day it is not clear how many cases the Commission has handled nor how many it has seen through to closure. For the other provinces, it is not clear where patients can lodge complaints and obtain redressal.

The Consumer Court is filling a vacuum in this case. The country badly needs a forum where patients can lodge complaints, and also a body that oversees the medical profession.

Leaving the application of standards to the professional bodies of doctors is no solution since they are more likely to close ranks around their peers rather than look out for the interests of the patients.

This failure of the medical profession is causing growing numbers of people to go abroad for even routine treatments, but this option is only available to those who can afford it — a select few.

It is becoming increasingly imperative that the power a doctor enjoys over his or her patients be exercised with due care. When they fail to do so, then doctors need to be held accountable for their failure to discharge their professional duties in an ethical manner.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2015

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