We hear and also read media reports very often that patients or their relatives assault physicians and vandalise hospitals allegedly for mistreatment or wrong treatment. But doctor-patient relationship was once so good that the latter used to take the former as his/her saviour and hold him with respect. But the case is no longer so. Patients invariably - of course, there are a few exceptions - think that their doctors are greedy and may harm them by prescribing more medicines than needed and they promote the interest of pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. Only the informed patients can take a precaution in selecting appropriate physicians for treating their physical problems. But others cannot. They are to choose doctors as advised by their relatives or as guided by hospitals.
The common complaints of patients are that physicians do not listen minutely to what they say and start writing names of medicines before patients could complete describing their physical woes. They prescribe more medicines - and at times wrong ones - than the patients really needed. They ask for more pathological tests than actually needed and ignore lab tests done by patients on advice of another physician just a few days earlier.
The patients have a lot of grievances against hospitals also. Very often they are advised to get admitted into hospitals though their diseases are not serious enough to require admission. Hospitals keep patients on beds for more time than needed just to make more money. No one is there to see whether hospitals are treating patients properly or not. There is an ugly nexus among pharmaceutical companies, doctors and, by extension, hospitals aiming at extracting more money from the patients.
The doctors, with a few exceptions, have so low reputation that hardly any patient believes them. A patient approaches a physician with a feeling in mind that he would prescribe him more medicines than he needs and the doctor is there only to see his interest and that of the hospital. Very often patients allege that the physicians treated them wrongly, and they suffered a lot because of wrong treatment. There are instances of beating physicians by patients or their relatives.
But beating or starting an altercation with doctors does not offer any solution to problems the patients face. There should be a place where patients, who believe they are wrongly treated or prescribed wrong medicines, can lodge their complaints. But unfortunately, there exists nothing like that in Bangladesh. Failing to turn to an authority with complaints, the patients take law in their own hands which is neither desirable nor can it address the patients' grievances in a rightful manner.
There is no way ordinary people can know whether a patient is rightly treated by a physician or in hospital. Only another doctor having expertise in the same line and having no conflict of interest, can give an opinion that a particular patient has been mistreated or prescribed wrong and harmful medicines. With this type of opinion, the concerned patient should have the right to go to a lawful authority to get his case heard and his grievances redressed. For this, the country needs to have a properly constituted oversight body to oversee physicians' practices and to hear patients' complaints, if any. The proposed body should be an oversight authority or commission on hospital administration and physicians' code of conduct. Bangladesh should see how other countries are addressing complaints of patients against doctors and hospitals.
Unless we can improve patient-doctor relationship, the health care system in the country will not be able to keep patients at home. Many of them now go abroad simply because they think that doctors here are not caring and hospitals are there only to fleece them.
The writer is Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka.