This is an article which I wrote for Times Wellness for Doctor's Day.
There used to be a time when the doctor was a highly regarded member of society. Doctors were treated as trusted professionals who could be counted upon to provide wise counsel in times of sickness.
Sadly, times have changed. Doctors are now looked upon as mercenaries who run a business and are out to make a quick buck, often at the expense of the patient. The doctor has been knocked off his pedestal and part of the reason for this is because patients have unrealistic expectations from medical technology. They assume that there is a pill for every ill – and they jump to the conclusion that if the patient does not improve, this means the doctor was negligent.
Doctors are also to blame for this sad state of affairs. We have forsaken our leadership role, and do not stand up for each other, as a result of which the image of the medical profession has taken a severe beating. Stories of uncaring doctors are featured prominently in the media , so much so that every doctor with an ultrasound machine is now considered to be a potential girl child killer and criminal, even if he fails to just fill up a paper form properly !
It’s become increasingly common for frustrated relatives to vent their anger by beating up hapless doctors and damaging hospital property when a patient dies . Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that doctors feel vulnerable and threatened. They know that they are soft targets and have banded together to demanded protection for themselves.
The good news is that the authorities have been responsive , and a special law was introduced last year to protect doctors and hospitals against attacks. Hospitals are beefing up their security and some are even installing closed circuit television cameras to monitor visitors’ movements. However, the police only come into the picture after the damage has been done – and no one can repair the beating a doctor’s reputation ( often earned after a lifetime of hard work ) suffers for an act which relatives perceive as being negligent.
Every time a doctor is beaten up, it’s not just the doctor who is hurt - patients end up suffering as well . Doctors start practicing defensive medicine to protect themselves , and this deepens the rift between doctor and patient even further. Not only does the doctor have the right to be protected from abusive patients and relatives, he also has the right to be wrong sometimes in his clinical judgment ! Doctors are not infallible ; medicine is not an exact science ; and patients need to empathise and remember that doctors are human.
It’s a hoary medical maxim that prevention is better than cure and we need to focus on improving the doctor patient relationship, so that even if things go wrong ( as they inevitably will, no matter how good the doctor) , the patient does not feel wronged and the doctor does not feel scared.
The key ingredient in the relationship is respect , and until we restore this, there’s no point in talking about protecting a doctor’s rights, as we’ll never be able to protect the doctor from an angry mob if things go wrong and a patient dies unexpectedly at 2 am in a hospital corridor !
Doctors need to earn their patient’s respect – it will no longer be given to them automatically, just because they have an MBBS degree ! Doctors need to remember David Ogilvy’s famous remark; “The consumer is not an idiot, she's your wife.” Good doctors treat every patient as they would want their own mother to be treated , and a simple way of doing this is by making sure patients have realistic expectations of their treatment , by prescribing information therapy . The best way of earning respect is by providing it !
Doctors work hard , and many of them do an exceptional job in making sure their patients get the best medical care possible. They respond to emergencies at 3 am with a smile and are willing to forego their sleep to minister to their patients. Most doctors enter medicine with the best of intentions, but often this idealism gets tarnished with the passage of time. Doctors resent the fact that even though they have to be available for their patients 24/7 , they are no longer given the respect they feel is their due, no matter how hard they work . All abuse and no respect makes Dr Shah an unhappy man ! Doctors feel unappreciated, unloved and underpaid – and unhappy doctors will often end up creating unhappy patients !
Doctor’s Day is a great opportunity for you to reach out to your doctor and thank her . Doctors are so used to hearing only complaints from patients all the time, that I am sure she will be very pleasantly surprised when you call up just to thank her – and I am sure you will get much better care when you see her the next time !