Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Violence against doctors

A recent Times of India article( Bereaved and Angry, 27 Oct, 2005) has documented the increasing violence against doctors , and I read this article with great dismay . There used to be a time when doctors were held in high regard, but it is becoming increasingly commonplace today for doctors to get beaten up because patients' relatives perceive they are getting poor medical care. This is leading to a breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship, and doctors are feeling victimised and threatened.

Everyone agrees that the best way of resolving this problem is by improving doctor-patient communication. However, they seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick, which is why the situation continues to deteriorate. The problem is that trying to teach doctors to improve is futile. Good doctors don't need to be taught; and bad doctors will never improve.

This is why focussing on patient education is so important ! A well-informed patient understands what the doctor is doing and why; has realistic expectations; and also understands that a doctor is not God, and complications and mishaps can occur.

While it may be true that not all doctors are good communicators, we also need to remember that doctor-patient communication is a two-way street. It is the patient’s right to get accurate medical information – but it is also his responsibility to do so !

The easiest solution to improve doctor-patient communication given the limited amount of time doctors have to spend with each patient, is to teach doctors how to “ prescribe information “ . They can do this either by providing patients with educational handouts, by putting up their own websites, or referring them to health libraries . Patients will then learn to have realistic expectations of what their doctor can do for them . An information prescription is the best way of healing the doctor-patient communication gap today !

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