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Monday Musings: Doctors too must introspect on public healthcare

Private healthcare pros don’t talk about this. They see it as the govt’s headache

pune Updated: Sep 25, 2017 16:47 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Hindustan Times, Pune
Doctors,introspect,public healthcare
The credibility of doctors and hospitals has eroded enormously today and people look at the medical profession with considerable suspicion.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Last week when I tweeted in a chain of tweets that “Public healthcare is in a shambles in India,” a prominent psychiatrist asked “Is that news?” Indeed, we have become so used to the fact that the state of public healthcare is abysmally poor in the country, that it no longer bothers us one bit.

The context for that tweet was the shocking and unfortunate attack on a Pune doctor by his 75-year-old patient (‘Upset with costly treatment, Pune patient attacks doctor, HT, September 20). In the incident that was widely reported by the media, the frail and chronic asthmatic admitted to a small nursing home at Nanded phata, picked up the fruit knife lying next to his bed and attacked his doctor, causing minor injuries. The doctor filed a police complaint but withdrew it later, saying initially that he did not want to get caught in the police and court proceedings and, a few days later, stating that he withdrew the complaint out of compassion for his patient.

Our reporter traced the old man to a rundown chawl in Nanded phata and found out that he was not a habitual criminal or a history-sheeter, but a retired cook of the Maratha Light Infantry who had served at a posting in Sagar. Drawing a pension of Rs 12,000 the old man was supporting a family of four, which included his unemployed son. The provocation for the attack was frustration over the cost of treatment at the hospital, which turned out to be twice the original estimate given initially.

When matters cooled down after the attack, the son apologised for the father’s violent outburst and then explained what had happened. While this story will add to the statistics of another doctor coming under physical attack, it is not the usual black-and-white story of relatives of a patient going on a rampage at a hospital; or members of a political party throwing a violent fit at a hospital.

This particular story is of a poor man’s frustration over the cost of medical treatment. And since that hospital was owned by the doctor concerned, he became the target of his outburst.

The fact is that the credibility of doctors and hospitals has eroded enormously today and people look at the medical profession with considerable suspicion. They are not sure whether they are being fleeced by their doctors and hospitals in a variety of ways. The government has also begun acting against the commissions and “cut practices” in the medical profession and the inflated costs of drugs and stents. A range of medical malpractices indulged in by doctors and hospitals are out in the open and are common knowledge.

Ever since healthcare became a business in India – from the noble service-oriented profession that it once was – it has become horribly expensive and exploitative. The attack on the Pune doctor reported earlier, is a symptom of this disease. It has to be seen as a social issue and not as an act of crime in isolation. There is just one small section of doctors crying out for basic reforms in public healthcare with the objective of bringing down costs and substantially improving service. The large community of private medical professionals and hospitals don’t talk about this because they see it as the government’s headache.

It is high time the medical profession as a whole takes up healthcare reform as their responsibility, because otherwise, they too will suffer the consequences of the impending crisis.

First Published: Sep 24, 2017 23:31 IST