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Expert Speak: All Drugs Have Side Effects, so Are All Doctors Legally Guilty?

Expert Speak: All Drugs Have Side Effects, so Are All Doctors Legally Guilty?

As Dr. Satish Bhat rightly pointed out, we here at The Better India did not fully explore all possible fallouts of a new judgement

We reported on a recent order by the Bangalore Consumer Forum. As Dr. Satish Bhat rightly pointed out, The Better India did not fully explore all possible fallouts of this order.

In response, he has penned a consideration for our readers:

Recently, the media reported an order by the Bangalore Consumer Forum. A doctor was pulled up for medical negligence, and ordered to pay a compensation of ₹90,000.

What shocked the Medical Fraternity were the reasons and circumstances, since the senior doctor, who is a renowned Paediatric Neurology expert, had followed all standard precautions while treating the child.

The unfortunate child, treated for fits in January 2014, developed a skin reaction with a fever that later needed hospitalization and expenses amounting to ₹1,00,000.

For representative purposes. Source: pxhere.

It is important to note here that the Forum did not even find any lapse in either the choice of the drug or the dosage. Had the doctor missed either a drug history or informing the possibility of a reaction to the drug, it would have indeed been a genuine lapse.

However, the Forum concluded that since the possibility of a drug complication was something that the doctor knew may happen (in one in 1000 cases), the injury to the girl resulted from an omission in the legal duty of the doctor to ensure due care.

This is simply outrageous.

Despite judgments of the Supreme Court (this and this) that have already clarified the point, it is evident the Order of the Bangalore District Consumer Forum Order has completely ignored them.

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Please note that, even if a patient tragically dies despite or after treatment, as long as the qualified doctor took all standard safety precautions and met all regulations, he/she is completely protected from any legal action by a special provision in the law created for this very purpose – IPC 88. This makes the Forum’s order even more hard to understand.

The logical point the Forum seems to have completely missed is this – is it possible to prescribe any medicine, without the risk of any complications?

Even after the girl developed a fever due to an adverse reaction to the drug, she continued to receive the medicine – against the advice already given, and the delay in treatment by taking her to multiple hospitals only prolonged her misery, which amounts to contributory negligence.

While sympathy for the child’s suffering may have swayed the Forum, critically, it did not include a medical expert in the deliberations, even though none of the Forum members had any exposure to the profession.

For representative purposes. Source: pxhere.

The implications of the order are terrible. A medical expert would have immediately made the Forum realize that the child needs anti-epilepsy drugs for a few years even after the judgment. If such an order is followed to the letter and the drugs stopped completely (as no drug is a 100% safe from side effects), will the Forum be responsible for any uncontrolled fits that she may develop?

Can the Forum cause direct harm to a young girl, the very person it claims to protect?

The repercussions for the medical fraternity and healthcare are even more severe. Should doctors stop prescribing drugs entirely to follow the Legal Guidelines, and save themselves the risk of litigation in case of complications?

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Since all drugs are produced with the approval of the authorities, should the manufacturing of all drugs be stopped altogether? Can a hospital run without medicines?

 Disinformation by the media is something even more difficult to rectify, despite articles like this. What added to the outrage was the reporting in media, which was one-sided and unfair.

While the doctor undoubtedly needs to appeal against this order, it will not be surprising if he quietly accepts to pay the compensation to save himself from the mental agony and harassment of further legal proceedings.

However, the fraternity needs to explore options to minimise the more significant fallout of the order, since it sets a precedent to apply in other situations – if the order stays.

For representative purposes. Source: Maxpixel.

Unless the Authorities wake up to such incidents and review the working of Consumer Forums in medical matters, all of us will suffer.

Including a Medical Expert in the proceedings/Forum or setting up a separate Medical Tribunal to handle such cases are the logical options to consider urgently.

Over the last two decades, rising frivolous litigations have forced many doctors to practice ‘defensive medicine’ – where the doctor’s own safety is a priority over the patient’s interests.

With this judgment it seems, that too is not enough!

About The Author:

Dr. Satish Bhat is a Consultant Plastic Surgeon based in Mangalore with 25 yrs experience in healthcare, having worked in the best of Public Hospitals in both India & Abroad. He is the Convenor of the Medicolegal Cell of AMC Mangalore.

About AMC Mangalore:

AMC Mangalore is a registered body of 500 or so specialist doctors of Mangalore, affiliated to the larger Federation of AMCs of India (FAMCI) – an organization of 10000+ specialist doctors across India. AMC advocates ethical & evidence-based medical practices and highlights use of laws that exist in society to improve prevailing healthcare problems – to improve the situation for both the patients and their service providers.

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