July 1 is observed as Doctors’ Day in India to honour the legendary physician, Dr B C Roy whose birth and death anniversary falls on the same day. The day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the doctor’s role in our daily lives – a day when people across the country acknowledge the commitment and dedication of the medical and health care fraternity towards society. It is also a significant day for doctors themselves as it provides them an opportunity to reflect on their career and remind themselves of ethics of medicine.
India is unique in the sense that patients revere their doctors majority of whom are sincere, honest and ethical. However, due to unethical practices by a small percentage of doctors (numbers increasing exponentially though), faith in the medical profession, which once was considered the noblest of all, has taken a beating. It is precisely this loss of faith that has resulted in patients ‘shopping around’ in the hope of finding a ‘good doctor’. Sadly, in this endeavor, there is a possibility that patients might very well end up with the wrong choice substantiating the view that finding the right doctor in India is a lottery!
Greed, lack of regulation, lack of accountability, lack of firm laws and a lenient society has allowed unholy nexus between doctors, hospitals, diagnostic centres and pharma industry. Subjecting patients to unnecessary investigations, procedures and surgeries is becoming very common. The patient trusts and places his life in the hands of doctor. On many occasions, the patient discloses confidential information to the doctor which he/she might or might not have discussed with his/her spouse or family member. In no other profession does the individual place so much trust and faith. In some regions, particularly in rural India, the doctor is equated with God. The doctor is, therefore, duty-bound to have a higher level of moral code of conduct than those in other professions and must understand that he/she is in a very privileged position.
Ethics and formal training in research methodology has an established place within the medical curriculum throughout the western world. There is an urgent need for both these components to become part and parcel of the medical curriculum in India. The Medical Council of India Act has laws in place to firmly deal with doctors who have deviated from the code of ethics. The government of India must ensure that these laws are strictly enforced. The concept of ‘Family Physician’ is more or less extinct in India. The powers that be must revive this concept. We, as a country, must switch from doctrine of practising the more aggressive “Americanized medicine” to “British medicine”, which is far more conservative and evidence-based, which would go a long way in reducing unethical practices.
It is imperative for both patients and doctors to work together on re-establishing some of the lost trust, and truly, there could be no better day than Doctors’ Day to reinforce the unique relationship between the doctor and patient. On the occasion of Doctors Day, I would like to remind myself of an important component of Hippocratic Oath – and that is to ‘keep the good of the patient as my highest priority’.