Consumer forum order shocks medical fraternity

The medical fraternity in the coastal region is shocked over the recent order of the Bengaluru II Additional District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum which ordered a Neurologist to pay Rs 70,000 towards medical expenses, Rs 10,000 towards mental agony, and Rs 10,000 towards litigation expenses, after holding him guilty citing drug reaction as negligence by the doctor.

The neurologist, in his defence, had told the court that he diagnosed the 9-year-old patient's actual disorder, called Seizure Disorder, and prescribed a drug recommended by various medical bodies as per the patient's body weight. The doctor said that he had also explained to the patient and her father about the probable side effects of the drug.

However, when the girl was admitted to St Martha's Hospital where she received medical treatment from February 1 to 14, 2014, for which her father Shivaraju spent nearly Rs 1 lakh, the doctor at Martha's Hospital gave a letter that categorically stated that the girl was admitted because she suffered from Steven Johnson Syndrome after taking T. Carbaona Zepine. "Thus, as a result of the negligence on the part of the previous doctor in giving wrong and high dosage of the tablet, the daughter suffered physically and mentally. The complainant had suffered financially apart from mental harassment," said the petition before the forum.

Meanwhile, Plastic Surgeon and Association of Medical Consultants (AMC) Medicolegal Cell convenor Dr Satish Bhat said that if the consumer forum's order is right in every way, then should not the drug be withdrawn from the market, as a public safety initiative?

"Why are the pharmacies stocking such a dangerous drug and why are the pharma still manufacturing them, and more importantly, why is the government allowing both the production and sale of such a drug?" he sought to know.

Stating that the child, who was treated for fits in January 2014, developed a skin reaction with fever that later needed hospitalisation and the expenses mounted to Rs 1,00,000, Dr Bhat pointed out that the forum did not even find any lapse in either the choice of the drug or dosage. "Had the doctor missed either the drug history or had not informed the family about the possibility of drug reaction, it is indeed a genuine lapse," he said and added that the drug complication is something the doctor knows may happen (one in 1,000 cases), injury to the girl resulted from an omission in the legal duty of the doctor to ensure due care, is simply outrageous.

"What makes the order ridiculous is that, for any qualified doctor, even if a patient dies following treatment, so long as all safety precautions are taken, the doctor is completely protected from any legal action by a special provision in law created for this very purpose - IPC 88," he said.

"The Forum also missed the crucial step of including a medical expert in the deliberations, even though none of the Forum members had any exposure to the profession," Dr Bhat pointed out.

While the Forum may have been swayed by sympathy to the child's suffering, the implications of the order are simply terrible, the AMC in a statement said that a medical expert would have immediately made the Forum realise that the child needs anti-epilepsy drugs for a few years even after the Judgement.

"If the orders are followed and drugs stopped completely, as there is no drug with 100% safety 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 doctors sought to know.

Referring to the Forum order, the doctors said that the repercussions for the medical fraternity and healthcare are even more atrocious. "Should doctors stop prescribing drugs completely, to follow the legal guidelines, and save themselves from risk of litigation in case of complication," the AMC sought to know and added: 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.

The authorities concerned need to wake up to such incidents and review the working of Consumer Forums in medical matters, the AMC opined and stressed the need to include a medical expert in the proceedings/forum or setting up a separate Medical Tribunal to handle such cases which are the logical options to consider urgently.

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