Often times judgment is easy and rampant. However, one cannot ignore professional malpractices that are costing the country resources and, most importantly, valuable human life. The medical profession, which was historically immune from litigation and public scrutiny, remains untouched, breaching patients’ trust.
It is common to hear people complaining about the increasing lack of skill, reliability and ethics of medical professionals, and I can relate. A while ago, my father was called for help after a neighbour tried to commit suicide. I voluntarily got involved.
In the middle of the night, we drove the victim to one of the well-respected hospitals around Gerji area. For the patient to receive treatment, my father paid 300 Br at the hospital on behalf of the victim’s family, for they had come unprepared.
Few minutes passed before we found that the night-shift medical doctor had to be awakened. He subsequently told us that the patient needs to rest at home. Stunned by his order, we insisted that she be given some treatment. But he was adamant that she could go home, before jumping back into one of the hospital beds to continue his slumber.
Unconvinced by the doctor’s order, we took the unconscious victim to Zewditu Hospital. Again my father was the one that had to pay, but this time it was only five Birr. Nonetheless, the uncomforting odours of the hospital and the lack of any space on the chairs at the waiting areas, infested by patients waiting to be admitted, made for an arduous wait.
Soon after, doctors started to ask endless questions – what medication the victim overdosed on how long it had been and what not. After identifying the drug, the physicians managed to save the woman’s life. It turned out that had we done as prescribed by the doctor at the private hospital, the patient would have died.
This is not to argue that doctors in public hospitals are not flawless. Both have faults. In fact, the only difference is that one costs more than the other. Patients are misdiagnosed and mistreated everywhere, some more expensively than others.
Patients used to prefer private hospitals for they are clean, have a welcoming environment as well as have speedy services. Now that the private hospitals have gotten crowded with patients seeking quick treatment, such competing factors have long receded.
Physicians do not have medical ethics and integrity anymore but mistreat their patients as if there is no dignity to human life. The physicians who are alert and better efficient on a part-time job at the private hospitals lose interest it their patients on a full-time job at the public hospitals. Profit should not figure into professional integrity. It should be all about having a passion for treating vulnerable and sick patients.
Some of those skilled medical professionals feel that their patients should bear the burden of their low paychecks. Physicians order patients to go through countless unnecessary examinations at the private diagnostic institutions to amass a fortune from commissions. Such deliberate arrangements are not only unethical but also violate patients’ trust. This is the absurdity of the modern health care system in Ethiopia.
Public complaints of this nature are never strange to anyone’s ears. Most victims never sue hospitals for medical misconduct due to lack of awareness of the available legal protection. The civil law protects victims, holding the medical institution responsible for the medical error committed by employed physicians.
However, for non-contractual medical malpractice, the general misdemeanour rules apply, liberating medical institutions from paying any compensation caused by their independent contractor or non-employee doctors. To eliminate legal liabilities, most private hospitals deal with physicians as independent contractors while those public hospitals which employee physicians are protected by the lack of knowledge of the public to file a lawsuit against medical error.
The aim should be to deter medical negligence by financially punishing negligent healthcare providers to compensate victims. The fine line between carelessness and a system error make someone live despite the ordeal or die as a consequence.
In the medical field, failure to meet a standard level of care is described as negligence or a wrong decision, while a system error represents a random human error. To reduce health care provider’s system error, such as misreading handwriting on prescriptions, some private medical institutions have introduced electronic medication orders. On the other hand, patient identification bracelets prevent diagnostic errors. Such innovative means though will only address a fraction of the real problem.
Negligence in medical institutions has become too rampant that there is a nickname for it. Black Lion, for instance, is unofficially referenced as “Black Trouble”.
The scary reality is that the country is slowly losing its better-skilled physicians. They either leave the country to live abroad or retire. What is mystifying is how senior medical doctors have the skill but their successors betray significant incompetence.
One can argue the difference is experience, but I beg to disagree. As much as I respect the medical profession, it saddens me to hear my medical doctor friends chatter about how almost half of their class cheated on their written exams – although they score low in their oral examination.
Graduates from other professions, both in the private and public sector, may cause waste to resources or incur a loss on an employer, affecting the country’s overall economy. But graduates in the medical field do much worse – they prevent someone from living.
The Ministry of Health, since its inception in 1948, has achieved progress, but not enough to safeguard patients from medical malfunction through continuous inspection of physicians’ skill and capacity.
In a country like Ethiopia, where there is a single doctor responsible for over 30,000 people, disregarding quality will leave the country to gamble with human life. Examining medical doctors with tricky exam questions has not brought anything positive except to make students to focus on passing exams instead of acquiring the skills to treat patients.
The education system does not give time for students to read to gain proficiency as the next traumatic exam is around the corner. The medical profession requires extensive reading even after students graduate, such that the skill is retained and upgraded. But this custom is hardly observed. It is reserved for those specialising or teaching.
The system needs to be amended to breed physicians who are skilled, ethical and reliable. It is advisable for the country to consider other countries’ experiences where their medical students and physicians are less stressed and better skilled.
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