Monday, June 18, 2012

Why doctors deserve all the bad press they get

Indian Medical Association
Indian Medical Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Doctor bashing has become a very popular pastime in India over the last few weeks . Aamir Khan's show, Satyamev Jayate is repeatedly taking potshots about the poor standards of medical ethics ; and newspapers are full about how greedy doctors are aborting female fetuses and distorting the sex ratio in India.

The biggest tragedy is the profound silence from the medical profession . Even though a lot of this criticism is completely unfounded, we Indian doctors deserve the bashing we are getting. This is because we are keeping quiet , and our silence is being misinterpreted as a confession of guilt. Why are Indian doctors silent , when they are at the receiving end of so much damaging criticism, much of which is completely false and unfounded , Why, if one doctor is found to be guilty of female feticide , are all ultrasonographers and gynecologists being  treated as potential criminals ?

The reason is simple - because doctors are not standing up and explaining their perspective or point of view. Even though doctors have a number of medical professional societies which are meant to present their viewpoint ( such as the Indian Medical Association ), the fact remains that there is a not a single respected senior medical spokesperson who can talk on behalf of the profession.

Our senior medical doctors have let all of us down. Ideally once a Doctor becomes senior, he owes a responsibility to society and the medical profession . After he is retired and is no longer seeing patients , he should be devoting his time towards making sure society understands what doctors stand for . IN case a doctor is criticized , these senior doctors should be able to stand up for him and present his perspective, rather than let only a one-sided ant-doctor viewpoint prevail.

Senior medical doctors can carry a lot of clout . They have a lifetime of professional experience and skill; and are usually highly regarded and respected . Moreover , since they are retired, they do not have any vested interests , and therefore can be relied upon to be truthful and to provide a  reliable objective viewpoint. They would have the courage to criticize doctors who were guilty of malpractise – and would also have the guts to support those who were blame-free , but were being painted as villains by the press.

Unfortunately , senior doctors don’t fulfill this vitally important role . Some will continue seeing patients all their lives - while others will go on pursuing other interests and hobbies . Also, the medical associations in India are set up , they have become highly political bodies . There’s a lot of jockeying in order to become an office bearer in these societies, so that usually doctors who are in active practice who head these associations. Because they are professionally active , their first priority is taking care of their own patients, as a result of which they do not have the time or the energy or the standing be able to carry much weight with the press . This is why, NGOs and activists who have unpleasant things to say about the medical profession often find that they can pretty much say what they like , and there is no response from the medical profession. It becomes a one-sided slinging match, and everyone is happy to take potshots at the silenced doctor.

There is no one to stand up for the doctor today . The individual doctor who is being criticized is completely helpless , and with all the glare of media criticism on him, there’s precious little he can do to salvage his reputation , or present his point of view. The media has already made up its mind, and is happy to crucify him. They do not realize how short sighted they are being – and that each one-sided negative article is another nail in the medical profession’s reputation.

On one hand, we want doctors to behave as upright ethical professionals, We expect our personal doctor to devote all his time and energy and skills to caring for us. On  the other hand, we treat his fellow professionals as being potential criminals. If we use these double standards , what kind of outcome do we expect ? Unfortunately , the doctor’s colleagues and his medical association aren’t of much use either ! They are too busy taking care of their own patients , to bother about his plight or come to his rescue.

“ Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee ! “ This silence on the part of senior medical doctors and medical societies is actually going to hurt all doctors. If we do not stand up for our colleagues today , who will stand up for us when we run into problems ourselves ? It’s not that the media is always biased - but when the media is looking for an alternative point of view from doctors, they find it very difficult to actually find a doctor who will provide them with all the medical nitty-gritty and details,  so that they can then provide a fairer perspective of the problem. Most doctors do not have the time or the energy or the ability or the inclination to be able to talk to the press , as a result of which the medical profession is never adequately represented . On the other hand, doctor-bashing politicians , NGOs , activists and talkshow hosts have a field day because they can pretty much say what they like , with no one having the courage to challenge them. Their one-sided skewed message gets picked up by the media - and the repeated publishing of an one-sided message which projects doctor as criminals will start changing attitudes in society at large , as a result of which everyone will start thinking of doctors as being crooked.

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  1. Anonymous9:06 AM

    Dr, who will tie bell on the cat's neck? :) Why should you expect a senior physician to come and salvage the reputation of doctors? Every doctor has to stand up for themselves. Why they are not doing it? There is no unity and everyone are utterly selfish. They think- 'Why should I waste my precious time for some doctor whom I do not know and afterall it is not my problem-I am safe'! How much time it takes for every doctor to call the programme organisers and raise their objection. If 100 doctors do this won't the programme organisers think about changing their attitude ? Why can't they make the programme as a talk show where both parties are present (patients and doctors) and talk about what can be done to improve the health care? It doesn't need a person with clout to change these happening. It just needs some courage and selflessness on the part of physicians.

    Have a wonderful day Dr!

  2. I think, that press likes to create a show, and it has chosen doctors as unprotected side. Sure, doctors need some associations, which will guard their rights and fight for their reputation!

  3. Mohit7:29 PM

    I have a huge issue with doctors in India. And that's related to 'Black Money'. If you go to any private clinic in India (there are thousands) no one gives you any receipt for the money one pays for the service provided by the doctors in that clinic. Baring few big private clinic and hospitals, not providing a receipt for the service rendered is a common practice. Which implies, these clinics never report the actual income to the govt since there is no record of the payment. You go to a clinic or doctor's office, pay the amount(cash only) and get a token. That's how the current practice is. So none of these doctors pay the actual income tax to the govt. Talk about 'Taking a Stand' !!!

  4. Anonymous8:08 PM

    mohit receipt is not issued bcos u r paying discounted rates.receipt is issued for sure when pay in full.
    when instead of paying 1000 for a procedure u have paid only 500-600 bcos u went to a neighbourhood doc where is the money left for govt taxes.this is the reason receipt is not issued.wait for couple of years u will be given receipt for everything and u will be made to pay thru ur nose.As the things r moving in the direction of corporate healthcare.


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