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Times of India
29 July 2010
Chennai, India

Know the doctor who is on your call
In 1998, when some doctors hit the air waves tom–tomming magical remedies for HIV/AIDS, asthma, diabetes and sexual disorders, the Indian Medical Association members moved court. Several of them were arrested and others absconded.

In 2010, it took a petition again from IMA for courts to ask channels to keep quacks, who offer remedy to all the illness under the sky, off the air.

“It’s very sad to see such programmes continue. Back then it was a promise of cure for HIV/AIDS. Now, it’s diabetes,” said Dr M Balasubramanian, former secretary of IMA, who moved the court in 1998. “Quite a lot watch them. In chronic ailments like diabetes, there is no cure. But patients are desperate. Worse, we have had patients being wheeled in with complications after being treated by quacks. I am now happy that the court has made TV channels equally responsible,” he said.

Doctors admit such call–in programmes are a potent tool. “TV programmes can create awareness. But messages have to filtered to ensure that there is no miscommunication,” said Dr Murganandam, member of IMA.

Some TV channels that run these prescription shows said they had inhouse filters to weed out quacks. But for some, being nosy about the credentials of their guest doctors ran the risk of being impolite.

Hello Doctor, a show on Jaya Plus, has specialist doctors who come in to discuss medical issues. Senthilvelan S, the programmes in–charge of Jaya Plus, said, “We always ask for the degree and the registration certificate of the doctor whose views we air, be it allopathy, ayurveda or siddha. We also have a tie–up with hospitals that send in their doctors.”

Kalaignar TV, which telecasts ‘Udal Nalam Kapom’, goes by the popularity of the doctors. “We call only very famous doctors and since they are our guests, we can’t ask them to verify their credentials. We take their word for it and we don’t call doctors whom we haven’t heard of,” said Doyel, chief of news at Kalaignar TV.

Dr Sun News, another live show aired on Sun News, also does not have a dedicated verification process. “We get doctors from private hospitals and clinics and we use our references in the hospital to verify the credentials. We don’t like to ask the doctor if he has a real degree,” said Murali R, senior producer of Sun News.

Raj TV too shortlists doctors from famous hospitals. Senthil, producer of Dinam Dinam, an interactive health show on the channel said, “We shortlist doctors working in famous hospitals through the internet and ask them to send in their resume before we bring them on the show”.

Another issue is that of doctors being asked queries by viewers in an area outside their specialisation. “We filter the calls and make sure that the queries are related to the ailment which the doctor specialises in to avoid any wrong diagnosis,” said Senthilvelan of Jaya Plus. Sun News also screens calls before letting the caller talk to the doctor. “We have a scrolling system which mentions the name of the doctor and his area of specialisation,” said Murali of Sun.

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