A few years ago I had written a blog titled – “We are living in a dangerous world” wherein I had highlighted the travails of the “aam aadmi” (common man) who is a victim of subjective assessments by doctors and specialists. The situation has only exacerbated over the years. In this blog, I endeavour to create awareness about the so-called unethical practices adopted by medical practitioners by citing a few examples.
If you read these examples, you will realise that we are indeed living in a dangerous world. (all names have been changed to protect identities).
Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, is becoming notorious for such practices. Why? The high level of disposable income makes people adopt a non-chalant approach and they seldom realise what they are entering into.
· Santosh Hegde went to a dentist for a pain in his tooth. He was examined by a fourth year student of a dental college. The chief dentist was busy with other clients and there was a queue outside. The intern took an X-ray and within a matter of 5 minutes, Santosh was advised a root canal treatment. Another dentist pleasantly welcomed Santosh into her cabin, told him about the right brushing techniques and gave him an estimate for Rs.15000/- for the root canal treatment. Santosh obliged. A year later Santosh again had a cavity in his tooth. When he went to the dentist, what would have happened? You guessed it right! Santosh was advised a root canal treatment.
· Plagued by doubt, Santosh decided to take a second opinion. The other dentist advised him that it was only a small cavity and all that was needed was a simple filling.
· Across the city, there are recurring complaints about dentists recommending a root canal treatment for simple dental problems. As if all this was not enough, while the dental treatment is going on, the doctors continue to attend calls on their mobiles. The calls (going by the responses of the doctors) are from spouses, girlfriends, call- center employees soliciting the sale of a home loan or a credit card.
· Is a dental intern qualified to do a root canal treatment? Why do doctors need to take a X-ray even for the minutest of dental problems? If an intern botches up the treatment, how will the customer know about it considering the information asymmetry that exists between the patient and the doctor.
· Most of these dental clinics add the tag “Family” to them to stress that they treat their patients like family members.
· Many gynecologists, it has been alleged, recommend a caesarian section instead of encouraging a normal delivery. The difference in the costs between a normal delivery and a caesarian section can be eye popping.
· Many specialists have a front office staff who double up (without any cross training) as medical assistants who withdraw blood samples for testing blood sugar, lipid profile etc. As these assistants are not paid well and are always on the look-out for better paying jobs, you can imagine the quality of service rendered by them and their motivation levels. Their frustration is reflected in the manner in which they draw blood samples with one hand (with the other hand clutching a mobile) and the seemingly wrong advice they give to unsuspecting patients. (Fasting for 5 hours is enough, post prandial can be done one hour after taking breakfast etc).
· A colleague of mine was wrongly diagnosed as having a diabetic condition. The specialist lost no time in advising him a battery of tests and a list of powerful drugs. This sort of “paav-bhaji” diagnosis did little to help alleviate his condition and eventually the colleague had to change the specialist.
· Many clinics have sprung in the garden city with the tag name “family” but how they actually treat the patients (in terms of diagnosis and charges) is a real nightmare. For a simple blood pressure check-up, the charges are Rs.500/- only! If you go with a back problem, the solution is to immediately recommend X-ray, sonography and in most cases, a back surgery.
· An eye doctor in our area charges Rs.2000 for a simple refractory check up in the eye (ie. Testing the power in your eyes). Enquiries revealed that this doctor was not having a successful practice and she had lost interest in her profession. How to turn customers away? Charge them a bomb so that they never come to her again! Last heard, this doctor was happily leading the life of a housewife picking and dropping her kid to school.
So, friends, all the examples narrated above are real-life examples. In all cases, the principle of “caveat emptor” prevails. Let the consumer be aware! There are very few doctors who can inspire trust and confidence in you. I am sure that if you search for them you can find them. The ones who are earnest seldom believe in aggressive marketing.
So, if a polyclinic is aggressively advertising its services, it is time for a reality check! After all, if a specialist has invested heavily in medical equipments, he would want to ensure 100% capacity utilization of his equipment. If there is less demand, the specialist can manipulate the demand and lure gullible patients to undergo a battery of tests which may not be necessary at all!
May God help us!