Frivolous litigations & Charges: A Scary Reality of the Medical Profession

In the field of health profession, medical negligence is an often used term demonstrating a deficit in doctor’s duties towards patient care. When a patient visits a doctor to consult him or her for treatment, the former trusts the latter completely. Respecting that trust as well as adhering to the ethics of the health profession, doctors and physicians are extremely careful to provide the best medical care to their patient. However, at times due to unintentional error on the part of the physician, nurse, non-medical staff or even an unknown cause, medical procedures or treatment performed on patients may fail and can lead to further medical complications or even death.

Such incident can put health care professionals at the risk of litigation under the purview of medical negligence.  And with the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, growing number of disgruntled patients and family members are levying charges against hospitals, independent physicians, making doctor professional indemnity insurance policy a necessity of the time.  While it’s true that some charges hold genuine ground, most of them are frivolous in nature causing public embarrassment to the accused party coupled with the financial loss against hefty litigation fee and payouts.

An example of frivolous litigation is the following snippet from an email received by Dr. KK Karla, the chief of the National Accreditation Board of Hospitals or NABH. Catch the complete story here.

“Dear Dr Kalra, I am reporting against Dr ****** of ***** hospital. He did a renal transplant on my uncle. But it led to complications and uncle was in hospital for long. I watched the surgery on YouTube. Now I know doctor used wrong technique. Please take action against doctor.”

Irrespective of how bizarre and unreasonable the text from the email may appear, it is one of many examples of callous charges that hospitals and doctors are facing on a daily basis. And this can be substantiated with fact that the graph of medical litigation in India is up by 400% in just one decade.

What is the reason for the increase in medical litigation cases?

As per an in-house survey conducted by National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, the following 4 reasons have increased the instances of medical litigation in the India-

  • Greater consumer awareness
  • Flexible consumer forums
  • Cost involved in medicals services
  • Litigant mindset of the general population

So, what is the exact definition of medical negligence?

Many health professionals feel trapped in a catch 22 situations, wherein they hesitate to take medical decisions that entail risk, but are an essential part of treatment, and have to take it anyway in order to save the life of a patient.  And then there are cases where medical blunders happen on basic and routine medical procedures and hospitals and doctors have to take the responsibility for them. For instance, an incident where a premature baby died from 80% burn injuries because of being kept in a faculty incubator is a case of gross medical negligence on a rather common medical protocol. Here, the hospital has to take the complete onus of the incident and will also be required to compensate the aggrieved party in case a litigation is levied against them.

Therefore there cannot be a straightforward definition of medical negligence. Sometimes, medical negligence is caused as a result of misdiagnosis, unknown allergies, unintended medical carelessness etc.

So, what should be the response in face of a liability situation?

At times despite best efforts, several doctors and hospitals have to face litigations due to incidental occurrences which may be genuine or frivolous. Irrespective of the case, such matters are generally sorted in the court of law and sometimes bearing of the cost of litigation, in terms of both legal representation and payout can be very expensive. And this calls for the protection of doctor’s professional indemnity Insurance that covers cost of investigation, legal representation and compensation payouts.  It is a liability insurance product designed especially for medical practitioners to cover liabilities that may arise as a result of errors and omissions which may be committed while rendering medical service. Under the scope of the policy, the insured (doctor, physician hospital) get comprehensive coverage against medical negligence under various matters, including medical error done by an untrained or unqualified staff at the hospital or clinic.

In conclusion –

One cannot deny the existence of malpractice in the field of medical profession, and patrons of such practice should be punished by the law. But at the same time, health professionals must also be prepared for unintended matters pertaining to medical negligence which is common in the field. This can be done by following the highest standard of code and ethics and by avoiding unnecessary treatment and tests on patients, and at the same time taking adequate measures to reduce the room for mistakes.

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