This refers to the report that the Supreme Court has awarded a compensation of Rs. 5.96 crore, payable by AMRI Hospitals and three doctors, to Dr. Kunal Saha, whose wife died following faulty treatment in 1998. The U.S.-based doctor has said the verdict will raise the value of human life. On the other hand, it will drive hospitals across the country into panic mode. There will be an increase in the number of unnecessary tests, paperwork, and references to superspecialists even in simple cases.
Except in clear-cut cases such as operating on the wrong side, leaving a swab or instrument at the surgery site, giving obviously contraindicated drugs, and allowing a patient to die unattended, it is impossible to declare a doctor negligent. From paper and electronic records, one cannot prove negligence conclusively. Since all medical professionals experience such an unexpected turn of events, they hesitate to accuse others. This is portrayed as protectionism by many.
What the public, media and intellectuals do not understand is that the human body is an infinitely complex biological system. It is difficult for even a superspecialist with years of experience to anticipate unexpected complications.
Dr. S. Sundararajan,
Prescribing an overdose of medicine can be termed poor judgment, not negligence. Moreover, technical opinions vary on what constitutes an “overdose.” The patient and her husband were qualified medical doctors. It is a pity that they did not suspect overdose of a strong medicine and question its administration.
Doctors are bound to view the verdict with consternation. But they should not panic and turn overcautious to protect themselves from litigation. It is not the intention of patients, their family or courts to harass doctors. Law suits are initiated only in cases where wilful negligence is suspected. A doctor-patient relationship based on mutual trust and respect is the best guarantee against litigation when things go wrong.
For persons like my mother and I, both victims of careless treatment, the judgment comes as a whiff of fresh air. Rampant poverty, inadequate medical facilities and lack of awareness result in the poor approaching unqualified and ill-trained doctors. Even branded and elite hospitals cannot be trusted as there have been reports of medical negligence there. For a surgeon, it may just be a wrong incision. But it is a lifetime of suffering and misery for the patient.
A weak regulatory regime has led to the rise in the unholy nexus among doctors, hospitals and diagnostic services. Patients are at the mercy of a venal system with few alternatives. Given the technical nature of the medical profession, acts of omission and commission need to be verified by fellow doctors who hardly ever support patients. Besides, patients fear that they will not get treatment if they report malpractice. In such a scenario, it is the duty of the system to protect the patients. Hefty compensation for proven cases of medical negligence is a useful way of balancing the power equation between health service providers and common people.