In another letter to the papers today:
CJ right to urge aggrieved patients to talk to doctor rather than sue
INDEED, it was heartwarming news - 'Getting aggrieved patients to talk to doc, not sue' (ST, May 20).
Occasionally, precious lives are lost due to hospital mismanagement and doctors' negligence. Sadly, many people do not have the financial resources and knowledge to take legal action against health-care professionals and medical institutions.
With Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong's new protocol, many people will find solace, and closure of their grief so they can move on with life.
From my observation, consultation time allocated to each patient is relatively short and doctors rarely have enough time to conduct proper patient examinations and assessments/examinations. Owing to time constraints, they may be in a hurry to move on to the next patient, leading to oversight or dismissal of obvious symptoms.
Therefore, to protect the interests of both doctors and patients, the Ministry of Health should review and improve the present practice in medical institutions.
The new protocol will pose a great challenge to mediators, and all parties concerned.
One kind doctor shared with me the following:
As doctors we can only pray that God guides our hands to do the right thing. And, if we do wrong, to have the courage to admit it. And pray that the patient's relatives will be forgiving. What more can be done? Not all people we meet or deal with are forgiving.
There are some (fortunately a few) who make excessive demands of compensation. The world is like that. Fortunately, the majority are willing to close the chapter without 'killing' the doctor.
Lee Soh Hong (Miss)
I wish I was as optimistic as Miss Lee. Being the skeptic that I am as far as human nature is concerned (especially in the local context, where materialism seems to be so prevalent), and having spent some time dealing with such cases, I really do not think that “the majority are willing to close the chapter without 'killing' the doctor”. Not yet, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I think mediation is a great idea. But you will need a drastic change of culture for it to succeed. Right now, with the culture of blame (on the patients’ part) & the culture of shame (on the medical professionals’ part), there will need to be a lot of careful meandering through the landscape of medical jargon & potential litigation, peppered with emotions like grief, anger, & even the occasional desire for vengeance. Even in the first paragraph of Miss Lee's letter, one can see that the assumption made when something goes wrong & a patient dies, is that it is due to "hospital mismanagement and doctors' negligence".
The process of mediation will have to involve a team comprising of medical professionals (be they doctors or nurses), lawyers & highly skilled counselors/psychologists to help both parties through a difficult process. Let us also not forget that the victims are not just the patients & their kin, but also the healthcare worker who has been implicated in any case of alleged negligence or wrong doing. The resulting guilt (whether real or implied) can be devastating & may even impact their ability to carry on with what they have been trained to do.
I don’t mean to belittle the anguish which a patient or his family go through when an adverse event occurs resulting in disability, injury or even death. But I hope that both sides of the story will be presented – after all, isn’t that what mediation is about?