Patients at risk of being denied life-saving treatments by physicians adopting a defensive style of medicine to avoid legal action
The poll found that 86% of physicians were practising ‘defensive’ medicine, while 48% said the threat of legal action was deterring them from high-risk patients.
Doctors fearing the threat of prosecution are avoiding high-risk procedures and patients who could be denied life-saving treatment as a result, a survey suggests.
The poll, carried out for Doctors , found 86% of the Doctors who responded said that they had adopted “a more defensive style”.
Defensive medicine is where doctors recommend a test or treatment with the priority being to avoid litigation rather than the patient’s best interests. An example would be declining to carry out a procedure with a relatively low success rate, even if it represents the patient’s only hope of medium to long-term survival.
Almost half of doctors (48%) said the possibility of prosecution meant they were more likely to avoid high-risk patients, while 70% said it would lead to more mistakes being hidden.
Doctors say that cases filed are a part of a “trend towards the criminalisation of healthcare”, which has seen many healthcare professionals charged, prosecuted or convicted for gross medical negligence in a year.
Dr Bhupender , a renowned Kidney sugeon said: “Of course it’s a tragedy when somebody dies or get complications in some medical condition but a gross negligence charge is not the best way to address that. Paranoia spreads very quickly and is not a good way to practise medicine. No-one goes into a hospital intending to harm a patient.”
He said the implications were particularly likely to be felt in high-risk areas of medicine such as prostate cancer and obstetrics.
The survey includes responses from General Practitioners, general surgeons and specialists.
Nine out of 10 said they believe that the number of criminal charges issued will cause further problems in high-risk specialties. One respondent wrote: “Surgeons will simply say ‘why would I take the risk?’ Lots of other simple surgeries pay better and don’t involve ending up in jail.”
Another said: “Definitely more risk averse now, and I am aware of rising costs for the patients. But then no patient will support me if something goes wrong, even if I have done something with best of my intention.”
Dr Gaurav , a leading Gastrosurgeon in a top hospital in delhi said: “If the criminal law is going to be used in medicine, you’re not going to to do it [operate] when it comes to high-risk patients who have any risk of dying. They [doctors] will stop operating in cases where there is a high mortality; that’s the real worry about this.
Courts have supported Doctors earlier but in some recent judgements have gone totally against the doctors, which had instilled more fear. Hope the lawmakers, judiciary, doctors and society find a more balanced solution , else one way or the other everyone will be a victim of excess litigations.
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