Bitter pill for doctors

by PUSHPA GIRIMAJI CHECK-OUT /Telegraph India Monday , June 16 , 2008

Patients in India may not have a special law codifying their rights
(as in many other countries), but several orders of the apex consumer
court have helped protect their rights, particularly the right to
information, the right to proper and humane treatment and the right
to medical records.

Now in a recent order, the highest consumer court in the country has
upheld the right of the patient to all basic and vital information
pertaining to the drugs prescribed by the doctor. Failure to give
this vital information constitutes deficiency in the service provided
by the doctor and he would be held liable for the consequences of
such deficiency, the apex consumer court has said (Dr V.K. Ghodekar
vs Sumitra Prahlad Korgaonkar, RP No. 1727 of 2002, decided on May
22, 2008).

In an earlier case (Dr Shyam Kumar vs Rameshbhai Harmanbhai Kachhiya,
RP No. 1486 of 2001), the apex consumer court had pointed out that a
doctor was duty bound to inform the patient about the details of the
disease afflicting him, the various alternatives available to him and
the risks involved in the proposed treatment. Failure to do so
constituted negligence in the service provided.

Then in the case of Shri S.R. Shivaprakash vs Wockardt Hospital, Mumbai (OP No. 208 of
1993) the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had held
that the hospital or the doctor has an obligation to provide all
medical records (pertaining to the treatment) to the patient or the
relatives (in case of the death of the patient). Failure to furnish
the details would open the hospital or the doctor to the charge of
deficiency in service, the commission had said. The latest case (Dr
V.K. Ghodekar vs Sumitra Prahlad Korgaonkar) is an important addition
to these previous cases upholding the rights of the patients.

The latest order has its origin in the failure of the doctor who
prescribed an anti-diabetic drug, to inform the patient as to when he
should take it (before or after food), that he should avoid alcohol
and also the side effects of the drug. The doctor also did not
confirm that the patient actually had diabetes before prescribing the
medicine. This led to Prahlad Korgaonkar (45) suffering
hypoglycaemia, resulting in his going into a coma and eventually,
death. The apex consumer court held the doctor guilty of not giving
the patient proper and adequate information about the drug, thereby
providing negligent service.

This order should force medical practitioners to communicate better
with patients and respect their right to information, particularly in
respect of the medicines that they are advised to take.