This week I ask a lot of questions: how do we police doctors? How do we identify the bad doctors, sanction them or prevent them from continuing to hurt innocent patients?
Recently, there have been two dramatic media reports of doctors, ostensibly, doing “bad” things to patients who had sought their professional services.
Without prejudging the culpability of these doctors (the one who reportedly had sex with patients who had gone to him for abortions and the one who performed liposuction with complications), these stories seem to give the impression that there are some pretty bad doctors out there.
Again, the questions: how big is this problem of doctors doing bad things? Who and where are these doctors? How does a wronged patient or family member bring his/her complaints to the institutions that can investigate these reports of malfeasance? Is the method of contacting these public institutions enough to be easily accessed by all? How are these investigations done? What sanctions are applied? How are the sanctions communicated to the reporting patient or family and to the general population? Are the sanctions effective enough to protect the population from further harm at the hands of those found guilty?
The single overriding question is this: do we have a system in place in this country that allows a patient to easily (and the word here is “easily”) report medical negligence?
I personally believe that there should be a clear, public, easily accessible method of reporting bad doctoring to the appropriate institutions. The appropriate institutions should be clearly identified in the media for all to know who they are and what they do.
The results of the investigation of egregious activities of doctors after they are fully investigated, sanctioned, gone through appeal processes and confirmed must be made public. The publication will not only reassure the public, but will be a deterrent.
There have been calls for patients to sue doctors for malpractice. Inasmuch that seems like a good thing to do, it is impractical and not the best way to approach medical negligence. First, it is expensive and will further overburden an already overburdened judiciary system, thus making it a laboriously ineffective option.
Most patients will not have the resources or the time to pursue that option. What we need are clearly identifiable institutions (the Ghana Medical and Dental Council and the Ethics Committee of the Ghana Medical Association) which are easily reachable and will aggressively respond to complaints, but will also be fair to the reported doctor. We also need a robust coroner’s inquest process that will investigate deaths resulting from medical malpractice.
These two, I suspect, will help us to answer most if not all the questions.
What do you think?