Many years ago, the central government had asked all hospitals, particularly those in the public sector, to come up with a charter on patients' rights.
The hospitals were so worried about committing themselves to any kind of quality standards in health care that they drafted charters that were not even worth the paper they were written on.
And even before the ink on the charters dried, they were forgotten and consigned to the dustbins of history.
Meanwhile, the consumer courts have stepped in to clearly define the rights of patients and protect them.
Let me string together a few important orders of the consumer courts on the subject.
For example, in the case of Dr Shyam Kumar vs Mr Rameshbhai Harmanbhai Kachhiya (RP 1486 of 2001), the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission empahsised the consumer's right to information.
It pointed out that a doctor was duty-bound to inform the patient about the details of the disease afflicting him, the various alternatives available and the risks involved in the proposed treatment.
Failure to do so constituted negligence and the concerned doctor was to be liable for consequences.
In its order, in the case of Shri SR Shivaprakash vs Wockardt Hospital, Mumbai (OP No 208 of 1993), the National Commission placed an obligation on doctors and hospitals to provide the patient with all medical records pertaining to the treatment, including the Nurses Flow Sheet, notes of duty doctors and specialists.
Then, in 2008, in the case of Dr V K Ghodekar vs Sumitra Prahlad Korgaonkar ( RP No 1727 of 2002), the highest consumer court in the country upheld the right of the patient to all basic and vital information pertaining to the drugs prescribed by the doctor, including the contraindications (side-effects).
Hospitals often ask the patient or the relative to give consent to a surgical procedure without giving adequate information. In the case of Samira Kohli vs Dr Prabha Manchanda and Anr ((2008) 2 SCC,) the Supreme Court emphasised the importance of 'informed consent' and clearly defined it. Private hospitals are known to resort to unnecessary surgical procedures — more because of commercial considerations than the patient's health.
In the case of Mrs Varadhan S. Nair vs Dr (Mrs)Remani Rajan (O P No. 123 of 1997,) the National Commission was highly critical of such practices and said that would constitute deficiency in service.
In the case of Pravat Kumar Mukherjee vs Ruby General Hospital, where the hospital denied emergency care to an accident victim on the ground that it had not received the required cash deposit, the National Commission said such denial of emergency treatment constituted gross negligence (OP no 909 of 2002).
Of course, on emergency care, a number of Supreme Court orders have made it abundantly clear that hospitals have a duty to treat without any delay, victims of road and other accidents and those requiring emergency care.
H.C.Sharma: I went to a reputed private hospital in Noida for a cataract operation in my right eye. Even though they charged R 50,000 and said the operation was successful, I lost my vision after the operation. I feel pain and discomfort in the eye and cannot work properly due to this. Since the hospital is not responding to my complaints of deficiency in service, I would like to lodge a complaint with the consumer court.
You need to build a strong case of negligence, in order to win the case and get compensation. So, put together all your medical records. Get the opinion of experts to prove your point. Look at case laws on the National Commission's website. You can also get help from the toll-free consumer helpline — 1800-11-4000.
Do you have any problems? Send in your queries to: n email@example.com