In a country like ours, where a large section of people has no access to potable water, sanitation, shelter and education, an efficient healthcare system is wishful thinking. What we can expect is minimum medical facilities for the sick and ailing. Before the advent of modern medicine, the main strength of the healer lay in his experience and the trust that the patient bestowed on him. Scientific knowledge has replaced the science of assumption and eroded the friendly relation between the doctor and the patient. Doctors are now demi-gods and their failure to cure the patient invariably gives rise to despair and irrational reactions.
Technology has undoubtedly made medicine more scientific with better predictability and results. But medicine cannot be hundred per cent error-free. Its practice is a complex process, requiring a friendly and compassionate approach on the part of the practitioner. But the recent advances in modern medicine and its high cost have made things doubly difficult for the doctor.
For one, patients are often unaware of the expenses involved in the treatment and to what extent he may be able to afford it. How is the doctor supposed to undertake treatment, often a protracted one, with insufficient funds at the disposal of his patient'
Some grey areas
Medical tests today are expensive, but they have to be done for the right diagnosis. Yet, if the doctor refuses to treat the patient without the tests, he will be seen to violate his Hippocratic oath. A number of factors are involved in the treatment of the disease — its aggressiveness, the patient’s condition, availability of drugs, medical skills of the doctor and so on — and the doctor is not always in control of all of them.
The doctor, no matter how money-minded, will vouch for one thing on his part — the welfare of the patient is his first and foremost concern. The joy of curing an individual, getting him back on his feet, is rarely felt in other professions. In today’s scenario this may be impossible to believe. But even in a desperate situation, a doctor will try to save a critically ill patient. If he happens to fail in his attempt, his intentions should not be misjudged.
Doctors in India work where medical facilities are few or non-existent, especially given the number of patients seeking attention and the complexity of the diseases. The odds are many — poverty, corruption, limited resources and adverse repercussions. The growing cost of medicines, misuse of drugs, the unregulated drug market are other difficulties. Sometimes, cheaper and less effective medicines are prescribed, if only to lessen the financial burden on patients. Which is probably why the worst sufferers of medical advance are the poor, who cannot afford sophisticated treatment.
Of course, there are wrongdoers in the medical profession, just as in any other profession. Transparency and accountability are a must for any professional, and doctors are no exception. There should be strict rules to identify the corrupt among doctors and those involved in malpractices. But a doctor’s failings should not be magnified out of proportion as a degradation in his image will further damage the patient-doctor relationship.
Much has to be done for the starving, shelterless, miserable people. Diseases have to be prevented and the loss of lives reduced. All this is not possible without the help of committed doctors. Unlike any other profession, doctors are bound to help the ailing and the poor, willingly or unwillingly. Which is why a large number of doctors continue to extend free service to subsidized and charitable hospitals and clinics all over the country. The misdemeanour of a few of their flock should not provide the occasion to decry their service in its entirety. The sanctity of the patient-doctor relationship has to be maintained keeping in mind the larger welfare of society.