More should be done to help malpractice victims

The last thing a patient should suffer is misdiagnosis or even worse, negligence or mismanagement of their condition.

Wednesday March 2 2016

By EUNICE KILONZO
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When a patient goes to hospital, the last thing they should suffer is a misdiagnosis or even worse, negligence or mismanagement of their condition.

Illness is psychologically and financially draining. Throw in wrong medication or treatment and it makes the whole experience not only traumatising but ethically wrong.

In the past month, I have sat with patients who have gone through chemotherapy and had a breast removed, only to find out they did not have cancer at all.

I have met with families whose pockets have run dry, paying hospital bills to reverse the effects of misdiagnosis.

Or families who buried their loved ones because of what they say is negligence in hospitals.

I have heard harrowing tales of people said to be HIV-positive and losing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as scholarships or relationships, only for more tests to rule out the infection.

I have also spoken to doctors who say that misdiagnosis is their greatest fear and that it is never intentional.

Indeed, most doctors are dedicated personnel who make many sacrifices and sometimes risk their safety to offer their patients the best possible care.

However, there is a small group among them who make their lot look bad.

They are either not properly trained or qualified to handle the cases, or just fail to follow procedure.

TAINTED IMAGE

Kenyan doctors are said to be among the best trained in the world, but the actions of some of them have broken the trust of patients and taints this noble profession.

It hurts families and even the economy as Kenyans spend billions of shillings seeking treatment abroad.

The worst of it is what medical malpractice does to the confidence patients have in their doctors. This is a bond that should not be trifled with. 

Few Kenyans speak out when they are misdiagnosed or neglected by a doctor, a nurse, or a health facility. 

Their silence unintentionally covers up cases and issues that can be addressed and used as a deterrent.

This also makes it difficult to enforce the law because even the bodies that regulate the conduct of medical personnel are not aware of such cases, having to rely on what is reported by the media or cases sent to them by the Ministry of Health and other institutions.

This, however, does not completely absolve the regulators from blame.

CASES OF MALPRACTICE

To be able to weed out these cases as soon as they happen, these bodies must establish a system that records and reports cases of malpractice.

There is also a need for patient education so that they know when their rights are mishandled and how to report and seek redress for their suffering.

Patients need to know that they have a right to accurate information on their illness, the procedures recommended for their treatment, the complications that can occur, and the available treatments.

This way, patients can make informed decisions about their treatment.

A patient has the right to a second opinion, to get a review of the diagnosis and treatment plan.

However, this option is often not open to many patients as they cannot afford to pay twice for services due to the high consultation fees that most doctors charge.

Perhaps it is time the government considered standardising these charges, some of which are exorbitant.

Patients have the right to ask questions about their health, not to discredit the doctor, but to understand the details of their condition.

Doctors must be aware that in this age of Google, patients check their symptoms online and likely know what ails them before they go to see the doctor to either confirm or dispel their fears.

It is vital that concerns about misdiagnosis and negligence are addressed.

Anyone who suspects that they have suffered this should report it to the authorities.

Most health facilities have a complaint mechanism.

Those that don’t should set up mechanisms to get feedback from their clients to prevent patient dissatisfaction.

Let us change this narrative. Let us build the trust and confidence of Kenyans in hospitals as their refuge during illness. 

[email protected] @eunicekkilonzo

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