As an employee at a major multinational in the United States, I remember my first visit to the doctor’s office. I had woken up to a sore throat and visited the doctor the same day. The doctor checked my breathing, took a throat swab, prescribed an antibiotic and sent me on my way. I thought nothing of the visit until I checked the bill to my insurance provider. Imagine my surprise when I saw that my provider would be paying $110 not including the cost of my medicines, or a little more than Rs. 5,800. It left me with an incredibly unsettled feeling and many questions. Nine years after that visit, today a routine primary care checkup in the US costs $176.
As an Indian, I appreciate that a visit to a doctor here in any city costs anywhere between Rs. 50 to Rs. 500 ($10). Incredibly, the quality of primary care we deliver is still the same. I’m also willing to bet that a significant portion of those dollars paid went towards an unnecessary but mandatory test of my throat swab and indemnification of the doctor against the remote chance of me initiating a lawsuit. Such is an environment where fear of legal retribution commands a premium from exactly the same people who it was supposed to protect in the first place.
Which is why it’s a little disturbing to spot a new trend here in India where we irresponsibly name and shame our doctors. Social media and other forms of participative media encourage patients to share their experiences with doctors. Unfortunately, popular review sites are also breeding grounds for negativity where the posters share only their negative experiences.
Mainstream media too plays a significant role in attempting to shame doctors and their profession. I recall an episode of Satyamev Jayate where host Aamir Khan interviewed a family who had lost a dear one to alleged medical malpractice. What was sad was that the Star TV team did not make an effort to ask the doctor at the center of the accusation for his version of what had happened. This isn’t an isolated incident.
Of course, we shouldn’t excuse our doctor’s for their mistakes. Instead, I ask but a simple question- why shouldn’t we investigate and represent facts for what they are before embarking on a public campaign that could destroy a career? My argument is not meant to protect doctors who intend to harm, but for the doctors who had only the best of intentions and have made a mistake. If we judge going only by the outcome, then many of our doctors are guilty for simply practicing their profession. Such is the nature of what they’ve been asked to do.
I’ve known doctor’s to get attached to some of their patients even when it could mean going against what they’ve been taught. The patient could be a newborn, or someone suffering from a terminal disease. Similarly, when all other avenues are hopeless patients can only place their faith in their doctor. Through the eyes of the patient, the doctor truly must play the role of God. How can we expect them to be perfect? In fact, I can imagine that many doctors have a personal ‘near miss’ story where they compromised the well-being of their patient, but a colleague or simply good fortune intervened and the error was found out before it was too late. No one can be expected to humanly perform at the highest levels. Software engineers write bugs, doctors make errors and even voters occasionally regret their choices in leaders. People do fail, and when we do we reflect on our mistakes and feel terrible about them- thankfully.
Here at Savetime, we realize this fact full well. Patients have come to expect our doctors to have the cure, so much so that a job well done is now ordinary. We don’t agree. To fulfill our vision of creating India’s largest platform to bring doctors and patients together – we’re creating tools that will help you share both types of stories- the ones that will give you goosebumps, as well as those stories which you won’t get to hear. Tools that will hopefully help patients relate their experiences carefully. We won’t pretend that we don’t have a role to play. We believe the impact of our work will be felt in raising the overall intelligence of the patient community, better protection against malpractice and most importantly our confidence in the part of the healthcare system that is working well.
We wish all our doctors on Savetime the best for doctor’s day.