Healing Words are Hard to Find
“There is no shortage of physicians in this world, but healing words are hard to find,” so said, a wise, greying old surgeon in a moment of profound epiphany. The ever deteriorating doctor- patient relationship is a proof of this aphorism. This sacred relationship has been rapidly going downhill, and now there is an atmosphere of deep mistrust and suspicion all around.
Till a few decades ago doctors had a lot of concern for their patients. The practice of medicine was a calling from above, not just a way to earn livelihood. Doctors would go out of their way to serve patients, who would reciprocate with genuine gratitude, and would equate doctors with god. But today , medical care is a commodity that can be purchased. Both doctors and patients are equally businesslike in their dealings. Doctors are out to make money by hook or by crook. They go running from pillar to post to acquire possessions. Medical students choose specialties where earnings are high. Kindness and empathy are like a civilization gone with the wind.
Let us face the harsh reality. Every kind of malpractice is taking place in today’s world. Doctors prescribe unnecessary tests, surgical procedures, overcharge, take and give commissions. Patients know perfectly well that this is going on. They have access to medical literature, and make it a point to educate themselves about their illness. Even illiterate patients have become discerning. Hence, indulgence in such heinous practices has naturally lead to widespread resentment.
Of late, the medical fraternity has become disunited and fragmented on grounds of petty financial gains or plain and simple jealousy. There is cut-throat rivalry amongst doctors. Time and again patients go for a second opinion only to be told that the first person they consulted was absolutely wrong and the advice given would have killed the patient! This is a highly unethical practice, strongly to be condemned. Unfortunately, this double dealing and back stabbing is so widespread that patients do not know whom to believe and whom to trust.
Some of us may believe that, this only happens in big cities, in huge corporate hospitals .But in rural areas the situation is much worse. There are no doctors available on duty but are getting fat salaries for sitting at home, and the medical supplies are being sold off for money.
The government hospitals, on the other hand are bursting at the seams. Doctors are overworked and underpaid and the doctor patient ratio is severely skewed. The infrastructure cannot support the huge influx of patients. With so much work pressure on the doctors, there is barely time to do their duty, so where is the time to develop a relationship with the patient? Patients never get a word of compassion. They have to wait in long lines for several hours for a two minute consultation. The doctor’s behavior is curt and abrupt. No one bothers to explain anything to the patients, who suffer and ultimately vent their spleen at the doctors. Even if the doctor has more than done his duty, patients feel a sense of resentment because of lack of healing words.
In the private setups the situation is no better. No doubt people are polite and appear concerned but that is only to trap the patient. Here doctors have become business-like Robots, rather than healers. Mercenary doctors have dug their own grave.
But trust is a two way street, patients themselves are equally guilty, when we talk of deteriorating relationships. Their attitude has become demanding, threatening and hostile. They feel that since they are paying, they are entitled to trouble the doctors and extract as much as possible. The consumer protection act has led to unnecessary medical litigation cases, done by patients who want to make a fast buck.
And let us not forget the fast changing attitudes. Earlier patients used to accept their fate. They would surrender their loss to god’s will. Nowadays, people are ready to fight and kill if a patient is not cured. They get hysterical and make wild accusations against the doctors, accusing them of murder or negligence. They never realize that doctors are humans after all and errors of judgment can and will take place. After all, there is no guarantee of the human body.
The media are instrumental in fostering mistrust and spreading poison. They sensationalize and exaggerate incidents, defame doctors and love to portray angry, lamenting patients and their families. They make all kinds of irresponsible and negative comments without looking at the bigger picture. Insurance companies who dictate policies have also done their bit in contributing to worsening relationships.
So where lies the solution?
Each & every factor mentioned before needs to be addressed. Both patients and doctors should do their best to break this vicious cycle. Values which emphasize on serving humanity should be inculcated in medical students. Doctors should take a pledge to give up unscrupulous practices. Society as a whole has to step away from selfish motives. We need legislation and stronger jurisprudence. Patients must realize the difficulties faced by the doctors themselves especially when it comes to emergencies and critical care. Lastly the government must do its bit by way of resource allocation and at least double the health budget. Only if we employ this multi pronged approach the sanctity of the doctor patient relationship will be successfully restored to pave way for doctors with “healing words.”
About the author: Radhika Batra is a medical student at Santosh Medical College , Ghaziabad, India. She is currently holding the position of Public Relations Officer at Indian Medical Students’ Association, India. She has a keen interest in medical writing, have written on topics ranging from public health issues to patient experiences in dealing with chronic illness. She can be reached at: [email protected]
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