29 October 2010
By Jehangir B Gai
Consumer Redressal Panel Rejects Patient’s Plea For Compensation
Backdrop: At times, patients pick up hospital–acquired infections–known as nosocomial infections during their treatment and often, among other reasons, poor hygiene owing to complacency and negligence on the part of healthcare services staff are to blame. But that is only one of the many causes. So, can an affected person hold the hospital liable and make it pay damages? Apparently not, as is evident from the judgment pronounced by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, settling the dispute between a patient, Routh Raheswari, who filed a case against her doctor, Uppalapati Venugopala Rao.
Case Study: Rajeshwari, suffering from stomach ache, went to Dr Rao at Lakshmi Nursing Home. According to her complaint, in March 2003, she underwent hysterectomy at the nursing home and within a few days, she acquired vaginal and lung infections. With her condition deteriorating fast, she was shifted to a multispecialty hospital. Treatment at that hospital stabilized her condition and she went back to Lakshmi Nursing Home for recuperation, but Dr Rao refused to admit her. As a result, she had to seek admission elsewhere. Incidentally, treatment at the multispecialty hospital cost her Rs 30,000.
Rajeshwari later lodged a complaint with the District Consumer Forum against Dr Rao, alleging that she suffered serious disabilities due to medical negligence at Lakshmi Nursing Home. Refuting the charges, the doctor claimed that he had, in fact, helped her get 30% concession at the multi–specialty hospital. Moreover, he also denied not re–admitting her to the nursing home and claimed she never came back.
The forum, by a majority ruling of its president and a member, held the doctor guilty of negligence and ruled that he should pay a compensation of Rs 1 lakh with an interest of 9% as well as Rs 1,000. However, the dissenting member said there was no negligence Dr Rao’s part.
Dr Rao appealed with the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. After checking the evidence given by a senior doctor at the multi–specialty hospital, the panel found “nothing on record to show what deficiency in services rendered by Dr Rao”. The commission dismissed the complaint by Rajeshwari.
She then filed a revision petition with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, which too, checked the records of the multispecialty hospital that said the patient suffered from roundworm infestation, which might have caused the lung infection. The members on the panel said even in the best of hospitals, 5% to 10% patients develop post–operative complications and half of these complications are caused without any fault or negligence on the part of the doctor.
The Commission also found that Dr Rao had accompanied Rajeshwari to the multi–specialty hospital and en route, kept monitoring all her vital parameters. Stating that the doctor also qualified to perform hysterectomy and that the surgery itself had gone off smoothly and uneventfully, the national commission held that there was neither dereliction of duty nor deficiency in services on Dr Rao’s part. It dismissed the complaint upheld that there was no medical negligence.
Impact: There are always certain inherent risks and uncertainties when dealing with human life. Merely because something may go wrong during hospitalization does not necessarily mean that a doctor has been negligent. So, patients and their kin should not jump to their own conclusions and lodge a complaint against a doctor, without conducting adequate research to zero in on the nature of negligence. Doctors, on their part, should also spend some time explaining to patients and their families what could be the probable cause of the complication.