In recent times, there has been a troubling surge in incidents of violence against healthcare professionals, a phenomenon not limited to India but rather a global concern. A poignant reflection on this issue can be found in the article "Assaults Upon Medical Men," published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) over a century ago. It asserts, "No physician, however conscientious or careful, can predict the day or hour when they may become the target of an undeserved attack, malicious accusation, blackmail, or a lawsuit for damages."
The Enduring Vulnerability of Doctors
This timeless statement emphasizes the enduring vulnerability of doctors, a vulnerability that transcends eras. Working closely with patients and their loved ones, physicians navigate a delicate balance where any harm incurred is often irreversible. The evolving landscape of healthcare demands that doctors remain vigilant, not only in treating ailments but also in identifying potential flashpoints where interactions could escalate into violence.
The Lack of Government and Media Prioritization
Furthermore, it seems that neither the media nor the government prioritizes the protection of doctors. While the government has a social contract with every citizen to provide protection, it appears to lean towards the patient's side more often than not. Sometimes, there is a perception of bias similar to antisemitism towards doctors, akin to the wrongful depiction of Jews as devils in history. Similarly, doctors are portrayed as money-hungry devils by the media and politicians, seemingly catering to specific voter blocs. It appears that the narrative around doctors is influenced by prejudices, and this needs to be addressed to ensure a fair and balanced perspective.
The Urgent Need for Addressing Specific Incidents
The recent incident involving an anesthetist being attacked by a group highlights the disproportionate anger expressed. The assault occurred because the doctor was rushing to the hospital for an emergency, yet the group failed to acknowledge the urgency of the situation. This incident draws a parallel to antisemitism, where public anger is directed unfairly based on misconceptions. Addressing such incidents is crucial to preventing further violence and ensuring the safety and fair treatment of healthcare professionals.
Perceptions of Doctors in India
In India, the common address of doctors as "Viadyo narayana hari" (meaning doctors are equivalent to gods) raises concerns. Such extreme identification is problematic, as it may lead to the misunderstanding that doctors are infallible. It is essential for the general public to perceive doctors as human beings, similar to themselves. The danger lies in the fact that if things go wrong, the same doctor who appeared as a god may immediately be seen as a devil, facing the wrath of the public. Striking a balance in how doctors are perceived is crucial to fostering a more realistic and empathetic understanding.
Bridging the Gap with the Public
Moreover, there is a responsibility on the part of the medical community to bridge the gap with the general public. Although individual doctors may communicate with the public, as a community, our interactions are often limited. Our associations operate within closed circles, contributing to the perception that doctors are detached. To counteract this, our associations should organize dialogues and debates with the general public, raising awareness of our challenges. Active involvement in social media, podcasts, and health education programs can also be instrumental in dispelling misconceptions.
Countering Biased Media Coverage
It's essential to address instances of biased media coverage, such as a recent YouTube video claiming a hospital kept a deceased patient for a month and charged a hefty bill. This narrative, if not countered, contributes to the antisemitic behavior towards doctors. The video's claim that the patient was brain dead and kept on a ventilator for a month suggests a high level of dedication from the intensive care team, which is unlikely to occur without specific demands from the patient's relatives. Such instances underscore the importance of doctors as a community actively engaging in social media to provide accurate information and counter misinformation.
Education for Identifying Danger Points
Additionally, at the individual level, doctors should be taught in medical school how to identify danger points and aggressive behavior from junior doctors, recognizing that intense work pressure during postgraduate training can lead to less compassionate interactions. The heavy workload often makes postgraduates work like robots, communicating less with patients, and exposing junior doctors to public anger.
Prioritizing Work-Life Balance
Another aspect that contributes to public dissatisfaction is the lack of work-life balance for doctors. This imbalance can lead to frustration among patients, highlighting the need for doctors to prioritize their well-being to better serve the community.
Technological Solutions for Improved Patient Experience
Furthermore, improving the efficiency of hospital processes can play a pivotal role in reducing patient anger. Technologies like Hospital Information Management Systems (HIMS) can streamline registration processes, reducing long waiting times and frustration. Additionally, providing printed discharge cards, prescriptions, and diagnostic reports through HIMS can enhance credibility and trust, as printed materials are often perceived as more authoritative than handwritten ones. Implementing such technological solutions can contribute to building a more positive doctor-patient relationship and ultimately decrease incidents of violence against doctors.
Addressing the escalation of violence against doctors requires a multifaceted approach. From changing public perceptions of doctors to countering biased media coverage, and fostering better communication between the medical community and the public, it is crucial to create a comprehensive strategy. By acknowledging the vulnerability of doctors, educating future healthcare professionals, and implementing technological solutions to enhance patient experience, we can work towards a safer and more respectful healthcare environment for all. It is time to recognize the dedication and challenges faced by doctors globally and strive for a future where violence against healthcare professionals becomes an anomaly rather than a disturbing trend.