It is only an error in judgment to make a mistake , but it shows infirmity of character to adhere to it when discovered. Christian Bovee
The problem with the pressPress accounts of medical errors are usually sensationalized and exaggerated because mainstream media reporting today is largely about grabbing eyeballs. Attention-seeking Headlines such as -“Medical error or murder?” “Doctor on Trial for Baby’s Death”, “Injection Leaves Baby with Brain Damage”, and “Fatal Goof Jolts Famous Cancer Institute” have become routine. Journalism today is all about TRPs, readership, and page views. These parameters determine how well a newspaper, a TV channel or a website does in the market, which is why the media is no longer bothered about providing an honest and truthful news service.
Journalists, the underpaid slaves of this system , work under immense pressures of their own. They have to turn in their “stories” in time before the edition can be put to bed. This pressure to meet the deadline combined with the human tendency to unnecessarily sensationalize even the most serious issue causes a lot of damage . Truth becomes a casualty, because the reports fail to provide the right context or the proper perspective.
This is why doctors have become very disillusioned with the press. They feel that they blow matters out of proportion and that the media today is indulging in an orgy of doctor-bashing. When a patient dies, his family members seek out a reporter, who then writes up a very one- sided human interest story which paints the doctor and hospital as a villain. The doctor is often not allowed to present his perspective, because his lawyers tell him to clam up. As a consequence, the reporting is very biased and unbalanced.
Rather than try to explain that errors can occur because of systemic defects, editors are out to fix blame and look for a scapegoat. They suffer from The Owl Syndrome, aptly named after a bird that is notoriously short-sighted. Their emphasis is on -Who? Their goal is to nail the person who they feel was responsible for committing the mistake, because this makes for a much juicier story, rather than take the more responsible approach of determining how the tragedy came to pass. These are the remnants of our blame and shame culture.
Passing the buckAn excellent example of poor quality reporting is the media coverage of the death of 13 women who died in a mass tubal sterilization camp in Chhattisgarh in Nov 2014. The operating surgeon, Dr R K Gupta, who had done hundreds of similar camps safely in the past, and had even been awarded a state honor 10 years ago for his sterilization work, was held solely responsible for the deaths by the press.
He was promptly arrested and put behind bars. The public health department officials, who were supposed to be responsible for ensuring patient safety in the camp that they had organized, went scot-free, even though it was they who failed to provide the basic infrastructural support services the doctor needed to carry out the surgery safely. More than 4 million people (a large percentage of which are women), undergo sterilization operations in India very year, often in unhygienic conditions and without proper care. This camp was held in an abandoned hospital with no running water, and the sterilization of rusty equipment was inadequate. Rules were flouted at several levels. These dangerous conditions are not uncommon in sterilization camps throughout India, which means this is a disaster waiting to happen again – and again.
However, rather than take responsibility for the disaster, public health officials started playing their standard game of passing the buck. Dr KC Urao, deputy director of the Chhattisgarh health and family welfare department, said the camp had not been authorized. He blamed the tragedy on adulterated or contaminated drugs – and held the officials of the local health department who had purchased them responsible for the deaths.
The saving graceThe good news is that digital media is giving niche players a golden opportunity to reach out to patients. This sector is growing exponentially and online media will soon come to play a big role, not just in reporting on health issues , but also in educating patients. Today, thanks to clever digital entrepreneurs, you can search for the best doctor for your ailment, seek an appointment, take a second opinion, order blood tests, read doctor reviews, as well as seek support groups for your particular illness .
We need to create a trusted digital health platform in India to bridge the doctor-patient chasm , where doctors would be able to connect with their patients , and patients could become more empowered to make the right decisions.