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Bitter pill for doctors

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.

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