‘Shouting doctor’ incident masks serious underlying issues

The video of a doctor shouting at his patient went viral a few days ago. The Negeri Sembilan Health Department (JKNNS) claimed that the case of the doctor who lost his temper had been resolved through negotiations with both parties. That may well be the case, but has the health ministry (MOH) really grasped the seriousness of the situation and dealt with the underlying issues?

The doctor’s bedside manner is questionable. He was apparently attending to another patient when he was disturbed. He could have calmed the patient who barged in, and said he would attend to him as soon as his diagnosis of the other patient was complete. Instead, he traded insults with the first patient.

Put yourself in the shoes of the patient. He had apparently been prescribed the wrong medicine and only found out when a pharmacist told him.

Many people put doctors on a pedestal and do not question their diagnoses. Some would have taken the medicine, but what if the wrong medicine made the patient worse?

It is not the job of the pharmacist to give a new prescription. The patient at JKNNS had to see the doctor again for the correct medicine. The patient went back and forth to see the doctor for a new prescription. He did not need this extra stress, when he could have been at home resting, and taking his medicine, to recover.

The comments on social media have been quite alarming. Some said the patient should have gone to a private clinic instead of making a fuss. Not everyone can afford a private clinic. The doctor reportedly made a mistake. Why should the patient waste more time and money?

Others said the patient could have waited. They forget he had been shuttling between the pharmacist and the doctor. Any person would be annoyed at having to make these extra trips, but a sick person would be tired and angry.

I have an aunt who goes to the government clinic because she cannot afford a private doctor. She is a widow living on her husband’s monthly pension of RM600. She does not drive and there are no buses in her area. She must arrange for a taxi to take her to the hospital, as her children live in the city, hundreds of kilometres away. If her taxi was waiting for her at a prearranged time, she would have to pay the driver extra. Not everyone has a mobile phone.

Now, put yourself in the doctor’s shoes. Was he irritated because he had been found writing an incorrect prescription? Or was he annoyed that he had been disturbed while he was attending to another patient?

Was the doctor overworked? Did he have problems at home or in the workplace? Did he have financial worries? Doctors are humans and personal problems may affect their performance at work. Are there counselling services for doctors?

We are told there are too many doctors in Malaysia, and yet we read conflicting reports that doctors have to work long hours because there is a shortage. Which is true?

It has been claimed that graduate doctors work 17-hour shifts and are not allowed leave on weekends during their housemanship. Will the MOH look into this?

In Malaysia, few people complain because they know their complaints will fall on deaf ears. The people in charge of dealing with complaints will drag their feet, or say that some policy or other has rendered their complaint null and void.

A few critics on social media accused the patient of being unfair to the doctor, but did they think his problem would have been resolved if he had gone through the proper channels?

That is the beauty of a video. You can understand the frustrations of the Malaysian public who have for decades tried to speak out but have been prevented by bureaucracy.

In the past, those who complained about the bureaucracy’s arrogance, ineptitude and incompetence got nowhere. Complaints were filed away in the back of a cabinet. Others were stamped “Case closed”.

The cases of medical negligence we sometimes read about may represent just the tip of the iceberg. Or are you one of those who do not question the doctors, and think they are always right?

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily those of FMT.