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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Doctor bashing and why the Indian medical profession must evolve.

Doctor bashing and why the Indian medical profession must evolve.

Gandhi JS

From Journal of Post Graduate Medicine

How to cite this article:
Gandhi JS. Doctor bashing and why the Indian medical profession must evolve. J Postgrad Med 2002;48:155-155

How to cite this URL:
Gandhi JS. Doctor bashing and why the Indian medical profession must evolve. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2002 [cited 2005 Nov 9];48:155-155. Available from:;year=2002;volume=48;issue=2;spage=155;epage=155;aulast=Gandhi

I read with interest the comments by Dr. Pandya on the harassment and violence inflicted on doctors in India.[1] Indeed, in one of the recent issues of the British Medical Journal a Pakistani doctor reports similar events in his country.[2] It is clear even in Britain that doctors no longer have the kudos that their predecessors commanded implicitly as part of their professional role. Certainly in the UK this loss of faith in the medical profession has resulted from large malpractice scandals incriminating senior doctors during the last decade. We saw over the nineties the Bristol paediatric cardiac surgery scandal, the Alder Hey revelations, the Dr Shipman affair, and an array of ignominious ends to otherwise admirable careers. It was undoubtedly the case in these instances that patient care had been substandard. The General Medical Council responded briskly by establishing new mechanisms to monitor the performance of consultants (who hitherto had worked with relative impunity) and by forming bodies such as the National Institute of Clinical Excellence to audit clinical practices. The British people also changed their view of doctors, and there is presently a rising trend of complaints against health professionals and the system of the National Health Service (NHS). For the time being in Britain we are only more aware of the medicolegal aspects of our practice (so that clinical care is improving), but it may be that soon we will work in the litigious culture found in North America.
The spate of aggression against doctors in the subcontinent must also prompt a timely reassessment of the doctor’s role in Indian society. As observed by Dr Pandya and others, frequently the anger and distrust expressed by patients and relatives against doctors stem from poor communication rather than negligence. Patients and relatives feel alienated and powerless. In Indopakistani culture, anger can easily be vented in a fanatic manner that involves injury or murder, and it seems that the current vogue is to channel this destructive force towards the medical profession. Although I suspect there may be political issues that have led to the persecution of individual Indian doctors, surely it is now up to the Indian profession as a whole to actively redeem itself in the eyes of the public. Unlike in Britain, the Indian state is unlikely to show interest in the plight of its doctors, and changes to improve patient care and restore public confidence must arise from within the profession.
As a symbolic step, undergraduate curricula in India must now include teaching on communication between doctor and patient in earnest. On speaking to doctors who have qualified in India and now work in the NHS, the recurrent opinion I encounter is that there is a gross lack of such training. Moreover, the importance of good communication needs to be reiterated throughout postgraduate training. Indian doctors must also now be provoked to create a system to handle complaints from patients and relatives that gives people dignity, and minimises the dishonesty and inefficiency that Indians themselves admit riddles their existing institutions. Control of the quality of patient care is warranted especially in India, where healthcare is primarily in the private sector and patients are potentially vulnerable to serious iatrogenic blunders. Cynics will quickly say that the corruption cannot be erased, but surely every effort will help in reducing the actual burden of dishonesty that is sparking frustration and violence. If there is no accountability or audit in the profession, then barbarism will persist and probably worsen. The minutiae of how such a system of audit can be conceived, formed, financed, and run is not a matter for a bystander such as myself to contemplate. And armchair analyses and cynicism will not suffice, because if the chair is kept too warm too long Indian doctors will inevitably attain the status given to unreliable politicians.

:: References

1. Pandya SK. Doctor patient relationships: The importance of the patient’s perceptions. J Postgrad Med 2001;47:3-7. Back to cited text no. 1
2. Shafqat S. New hazard of medicine. BMJ 2002;324:1045. Back to cited text no. 2

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