Falling ill in India is often like standing in line for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Suddenly, you are spoilt for choices – Allopathy, Ayurveda, Naturopathy, Homoeopathy, Unani or Siddha, religious leaders and rites, amulets, charms and potions etc.. Put that against the backdrop of the public’s lack of awareness of general health and medicine, and it can rewrite one’s fate to anything from complete revival to avoidable death.
This is where the media can intervene and make a difference. By bringing to light the advances of medical sciences and what people stand to gain from it, they can help people in taking informed decisions about their well-being. But lately, the fourth estate has taken to a disappointing trend of criminalizing doctors merely for, what appears to be, sensationalist headlines.
Last month, the Hindustan Times’ front page featured the shocking incident of a man who had an 8-inch wire left behind in his ‘stomach’ following a surgical procedure for removing kidney stones, allegedly evident of the doctors’ negligence. Further investigations and enquiries from skeptical doctors unearthed the fact that it was in fact a catheter left in place as per the protocol, which was to be removed on follow-up. The paper was forced to take down the article, followed by an apology, for failing to confirm facts with the surgeons in question, and for not bothering to get into the details regarding the procedure and all that it entailed.
More recently, Zee news forayed into hard-hitting journalism, revealing the ‘true’ cost of ultrasound scans as merely 3 Rs., while the rest of the Rs. 600 charged by radiologists supposedly went straight into their pockets. In an age where even a cup of tea would cost at least Rs. 5, this thoughtless statement by a national news channel is abhorrent to say the least. A scan costs a minimum of Rs. 500 even in Central institutes like AIIMS, and covers not just the expenses of imaging, but also interpretation and recommendations.
What these media powerhouses and the cynical public needs to look at is the affordability of services in India as opposed to Western countries whose standards are met by most corporate and tertiary hospitals across the country. While the lowest price at which an MRI scan can be done in the US is around Rs. 12, 700 (with average rates of around Rs 1.6 lakhs), getting one done in India would cost much less at a minimum Rs. 3000 in Government institutions, and up to Rs. 12, 000 in the private sector. In fact, the affordability of top-notch servicesis one of the factors in India’s leading position in medical tourism, at around one-tenth the original cost for comparable procedures in the UK and the US.
On the contrary, by creating news where there is none at the expense of people’s trust in the medical system, they are incurring more harm than they might realize. At less than 2 per cent of the annual budget allocated for public health, and with an average ratio of one doctor for every 1700 patients, the public health system is indeed in an abysmal state. And like every field, medicine has its bad apples as well. But to paint the entire profession black, as well as to collectively render them and their property susceptible to the law of the mob is an unreasonable work environment for highly-skilled, competent medical professionals. The case of Dr. Rohit Gupta, who was hospitalized following attacks by a patient’s relatives as a result of the latter’s succumbing to multi organ failure, is just one among innumerable attacks that doctors have faced over the years for doing their duty. While ignorance can be cited as the mob’s excuse, what reasons do the media giants have for spreading misinformation?
So, dear media, take note of the damages you perpetuate by widening the already existing gap between patients and doctors. Yes, doctors do have a strict moral code to abide by, but please ensure that you do not put them on a high pedestal and to verify facts before broadcasting them. Instead of drawing unfair generalizations, let us join forces and ask the government to reform the healthcare and health education systems, to deliver to its people the health industry they deserve.