As children, we all think of our doctors as nothing short of magicians. You’re down with fever and feeling terrible, you gulp down that strawberry flavored medicine your doctor gave you and lo and behold, the fever’s gone and you are back to your cartwheeling ways!! If that is not magic, what is!! Most of us retain a bit of this awe, wonder and implicit faith in our doctors well into adulthood, until we inevitably run into some unscruplous doctor who makes a mockery of that faith and makes us eye every other doctor thereafter with suspicion.
Satyamev Jayate’s episode on corruption in the world of medicine raised many hackles. A number of doctors’ groups were up in arms against Aamir Khan for daring to put doctors under the spotlight. Social networking sites were agog with vicious and frequently personal assaults against Aamir and his show and the Indian Medical Association went as far as to threaten him with legal action if he did not apologize for ‘showing only one side of the story’. It was heartening to see Aamir call their bluff by refusing to apologize, and the IMA ended up with more egg on it’s face than before.
Such a sorry state of affairs for a profession held in such esteem, particularly in our country which is so woefully short of doctors that they are kind of revered as divinity incarnate!
My first personal experience of patent medical malpractice came four years ago when I was pregnant with my second kid. I had gone to my doctor, one of the top gynecologists in the city, for a routine check-up. When I took a look at the prescription, I found that I had been advised to take, apart from the mandatory iron and calcium supplements, a drug named Gestin, twice daily for twenty days. Gestin? It sounded suspiciously like the group of hormones known as progestins! I asked the doctor what that was for.
It’s good for the baby, she said curtly, giving me the annoyed look which doctors in India tend to give you if you question anything they’ve prescribed. Many of them seem to consider it a personal affront.
I looked up the net as soon as I reached home and found that I had not been off the mark, after all. Allylestrenol( the generic name of the drug) was indeed a synthetic progesterone used purportedly to treat cases of threatened miscarriages or pre-term labor although its usefulness even in those conditions had not been completely established yet. It was banned in the USA, the UK and Canada but was very much in use in Russia, Japan and India. Allylestrenol was aggressively marketed, and hence widely prescribed, in India, said article after article.
I remember feeling shocked and outraged as I read all this. The doctor had had no earthly reason to suspect that I could be having a pre-term labor or a miscarriage–there were absolutely no such indications for her to justify prescribing this drug that was not just unnecessary but potentially harmful too . How could anyone stoop to such levels to make a little money on the side?
Now, it wasn’t as if I had been unaware of the fact that doctors in India were given to overprescribing–go to any doctor anywhere in India with the common flu or even the common cold and you run a fifty-fifty chance of being prescribed antibiotics –but I had so far tended to give them the benefit of doubt. I thought it was more due to the exigencies of practising in our cramped cities where epidemics were common, or maybe even a certain amount of incompetence in some cases, than genuine malpractice. But this!! Didn’t this amount to a wanton disregard for the well-being of an unsuspecting patient who has put so much trust in you? All because some godforsaken pharmaceutical company wants you to push their pills, for a good fee of course!
Needless to say, I didn’t touch those darned pills and found myself a new doctor the very next day. I so wanted to take my former doctor to court for malpractice but I was thirty weeks along at the time and found that I just did not have the stamina, and my husband did not have the time, to run around courts. It was simply more convenient to forget about it and move on.
Nevertheless I still fumed when I thought about it, when I thought of all those pregnant women in her care who were being made to take pills they should not be taking.
A couple of months after the delivery, I got myself an appointment with my former doctor with the sole intention of letting her know what I thought of her and her little scam. I couldn’t sue her but I could surely berate her for the unpardonable breach of trust! I could surely let her know that she had been caught at it!
And so I told her that even if it didn’t prick her canvas-like conscience, pushing questionable pills to unsuspecting patients could land her in big-time trouble in this age of unlimited access to information (ah, how the likes of her must hate the internet for it) when even a layperson like me could find out at the press of a button what a particular drug was meant for. She was lucky that one patient who did catch her at it did not press charges–she might not always be so lucky.
My little lecture was over in just two minutes and I walked out of the doctor’s chamber feeling oddly light. I don’t remember what she said–or if she said anything at all. I don’t know if it had any effect on her or if it even registered in her brain. Probably not. But it definitely made me feel a lot better about the whole thing.