Times of India
01 July 2011
Strange stories have unfolded in the health care sector over the last few years and two of them in the year 2011 alone. In May, the government agreed to spend a whopping Rs 60 lakh per annum for providing police protection to doctors at a government hospital to save them from the ire of patients and their families. This year again, the number of cases of medical negligence at consumer courts mounted to such an extent that most private hospitals roped in the city's best lawyers and set up legal cells to fight these court battles. The doctor today is
clearly a service provider and the patient, a client. And on Doctor's Day, being celebrated on Friday, it is the failing doctorpatient relationship that needs help.
Ask doctors and they say that their changed relationship with patients is only a reflection of changing times and relationships in society. ``With changing value systems, patients now have lost faith and shop around from one doctor to the other in the hope of finding the best doctor,'' says Dr P Raghu Ram, director of Kims-Ushalakshmi Centre for Breast Diseases. He says that in the recent past, medical ethics have taken a downturn and the faith and trust that patients once had in doctors has taken a beating.
There are two crucial factors that have changed the doctor-patient relationship, believes Dr PBN Gopal, senior consultant, critical care, Apollo Hospitals. While one is the rising cost of health care, which has made patients more demanding, the other is their empowerment. ``With information technology, patients are empowered to a point where they know everything. But their knowledge is through reading and not practice,'' Dr Gopal says, adding that the result of this `IT empowerment' is that it becomes difficult for doctors to make such informed patients understand what they have to say. ``It is both empowerment and cost causing this friction,'' he says.
A crucial factor for this decaying doctor-patient relationship is the death of the family doctor, when people had one doctor to rely on for the entire family's aches and pains. This doctor was familiar with the allergies and the idiosyncrasies of a household and treated them accordingly, points out Dr A Y Chari, former superintendent of Gandhi Hospital who also served as director of medical education. `The concept 30-35 years ago was Vaidyo Narayano Hari (the doctor is next to god) and doctors and patient interaction then was at a personal level. The doctor was attached to the patient,'' says Dr Chari, adding that with changing times the doctor turned into a service provider and started treating patients as commodities.
However, doctors are hopeful of a change. Dr Chari believes that the upcoming speciality of family medicine' which is currently being offered in the west might just revive the deteriorating doctorpatient relationship.