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Doctors Admit Rift With Patients, Show Serious Intent To Bridge Gap

When an invitation came from Dr. Neeraj Kumar, President of the Chandigarh Chapter of Indian Medical Association, for a symposium on “How to Improve Doctor-Patient Relationship” and a blood donation camp to coincide with World Doctors’ Day on Sunday, I was caught in two minds, whether or not to go for such a programme, which in common knowledge is a sham affair. Finding nothing much on my hands on a lazy Sunday, I finally convinced myself to go anyway, if only to touch base with doctor friends I had not met for a long time. Sitting through to the end of the nearly three hours of focussed discussions, which were interspersed with moments of heated dissent from veteran doctors and general public alike sitting in the audience, I was pleasantly surprised to witness the medical fraternity seriously acknowledging the disconnect with the patients and showing willingness to make amends to win back their faith and confidence in the noble profession that once was, and perhaps still deserves to be.

First up, both the keynote speakers, and more than half a dozen panellists, were top notch and from varied backgrounds. Moreover, they appeared to have come prepared with a willingness to listen to dissent. And, dissent the panellists, who included senior private and government sector doctors, an internationally recognised consumer advocacy expert, a senior journalist and a senior lawyer, received in fair measure from veteran doctors and general public in the audience, who sought to break protocol to get themselves heard from the  patients’ perspective.

Doctors Admit Rift With Patients, Show Serious Intent To Bridge Gap, Lifeinchd

Photos By : Life In Chandigarh

The panellists

It was left to chief guest Justice Mahesh Grover, Judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, to cool tempers as he stood to give his straight-from-the-heart address, which received rapt attention from one and all in the audience. Interspersing his thoughts with personal experiences to make his point, he did not mince words in hitting out at the government, which in his personal view, had blundered in bringing the medical field under the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act. At the same time showing a mirror to the medical fraternity, he urged them to get their act together and mercilessly weed out the black sheep who had brought disrespect to the noble profession in the eyes of the general public.

Doctors Admit Rift With Patients, Show Serious Intent To Bridge Gap, Lifeinchd

Pointing out that the topic chosen by the organisers for the symposium itself revealed the deep realisation of failing which has crept into the medical profession, Justice Grover, said at the same time it also showed willingness on the part of the medical fraternity to introspect, which is a good thing as constant introspection is the need of the hour as it invariably leads to good outcomes. In a lighter vein, he equated the situation to a husband making concerted efforts to win back the trust and confidence of his wife which he has lost because of his conduct.

He opined that this breach of trust between doctors and patients has not happened overnight, but over a long period of time. “The success of any profession lies in its public perception. If the medical profession feels it has lost the perception war, it needs to introspect as to the causes, and take early corrective measures.”

Remembering old times, he said, “Those days most of the clinical tests we have now were not available to the medical profession, and doctors largely relied on a patient’s examination and listening patiently to what he has to say regarding his ailment. It did wonders in creating trust with the patient.”

Doctors Admit Rift With Patients, Show Serious Intent To Bridge Gap, Lifeinchd

Justice Mahesh Grover

Suggesting that doctors in the modern age need to learn to open channels of communication with the patients, he said, “I am sure if they are able to do this, the larger part of the problem will resolve by itself. The patient knows best what he is going through, and after giving him a patient hearing a doctor knows best what his affliction is and what the line of actions needs to be. The lesser time devoted by a doctor in listening to a patient, and depending instead on clinical investigations, gives an impression to a patient that he is being made a guinea pig, that he is being experimented upon. In such a scenario, when a patient is required to spend a substantial amount of money on investigations he takes it as commercialisation of healthcare.”

Use Kind Words

Emphasising the importance of using kind words from both sides, which he felt made all the difference in building a strong bond of confidence and trust between a doctor and a patient, he quoted two examples from his own experiences to press home the point.

The first was of a former High Court Judge afflicted with a brain tumour and needing major life-threatening surgery telling his doctor, ‘your competence and my confidence will help us pull through safely.’  

The second example he gave was of his own concern for the safety of his new born son, who had a condition requiring surgery, and after the surgery was admitted to the neonatal ICU. “I was spending hours to be with my child out of concern for his safety. Seeing this, one day the attending doctor asked me why I am so worried when the child is being looked after well by the hospital staff. He reassured me that my son will be all right since he is in good hands and God is with him. Those words of comfort gave me intense confidence that my son will weather the tide. That empathy and compassion coming from the doctor did the trick.”

Patient Coming In Distress

Justice Grover signed off saying that the doctors must realise that a patient coming to them is not his normal self, but is in distress. In this condition, he needs a doctor’s attention, care and concern more than anything else, to assure him that he need not worry and will be all right.”

Earlier, in their keynote addresses Bejon Misra, international expert on consumer advocacy and founding board member of New Delhi-based ‘Patient Safety And Access Initiative of India Foundation’, and Dr. SK Jindal, former HoD, Deptt. Of Pulmonology, PGI, also spelled out steps that can be taken to rebuilt the fractured trust between the doctors’ community and the general public. Stressing the need for doctors’ to show greater compassion and empathy towards the patients, they also asserted that the interests of doctors should equally be safeguarded and they should not be prima facie held guilty on the basis of a complaint and then be expected to prove themselves not guilty. The onus of proving charges in a complaint should be on the complainant and concerned authorities in competent courts, they added.

The Panellists

Doctors Admit Rift With Patients, Show Serious Intent To Bridge Gap, Lifeinchd

Bijon Misra

The panellists included besides Bijon Misra, and Dr. SK Jindal, senior journalist Vipin Pubby, Dr Ashok Attri, HoD, Surgery & Emergency, GMCH-32, senior lawyer Alka Sarin, Dr. Yash Bala, senior gynaecologist, and Dr. Gurbir Singh, Regional Medical Director, North & East, Fortis Healthcare. The police remained unrepresented since a senior officer of the Chandigarh Police scheduled to join the panel failed to turn up. The panellists deliberated on various issues being raised in public domain like unnecessary surgeries, investigations and admissions, media’s role in improving doctor-patient relationship, privatisation of healthcare and profitability, commissions/cuts paid to doctors and expensive medicines being prescribed by doctors with an ulterior motive.

Doctors Admit Rift With Patients, Show Serious Intent To Bridge Gap, Lifeinchd

In the blood donation camp organised on the occasion, 80-odd volunteers donated blood.

First Of Its Kind Patient Support Group In City

Before making an abrupt exit in the middle of the deliberations to catch a scheduled flight, Bejon Misra, who is also founder at ‘Partnership For Safe Medicines’ and ‘Consumer Online Foundation’, announced a major initiative, in association with IMA Chandigarh, for the city to bridge the gap between doctors and patients, which he claimed would be the first of its kind in the country. It will be a patient counselling centre, to be initially housed in the IMA House in Sector 35-B, Chandigarh, where patients can come with their issues related to healthcare services, including grievances against doctors and hospitals, in Chandigarh.     

“It has been my dream project for the last 35 years. This will be the first time in the country that a patient support group in association with leading doctors’ organisation will start this type of service,” he asserted.

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