Do you completely, whole-heartedly trust your doctor? If this question was asked to a random number of people today, chances are a majority of them would reply in the negative. Unfortunate as it may sound, the erosion of trust between patients and doctors (and the medical system in general) is a glaring reality today. Reports of malpractices by medical professionals, lack of due diligence, and a growing perception that hospitals are out to extort money are some factors responsible for this trust deficit.

The ability to heal and save a life puts a humongous responsibility on the shoulders of doctors. A minor oversight or a little error of judgment that can cause forgivable losses for other professionals, can lead to loss of life when it comes to a physician. Physicians are even required to take an oath of ethical practice when they begin their careers. This practice dates way back to the Hippocratic Oath written between the third and the fifth centuries BC. Historically medicine was considered as one of the most noble professions and doctors perceived as gods of healing. Not so, any more!

The Erosion of Trust

In recent years, the field of medicine has witnessed a significant shift in India. With the emergence of Corporate Hospitals, there is a growing perception that doctors today are operating less for public service and more for earning big bucks. Out of reach of a majority of common people as they are, the ‘five-star’ hospitals do not just charge for medical treatment but also for the ‘luxurious’ facilities they offer to patients and their attendants. The turn towards investigation-based treatment where doctors prefer to conduct a series of investigations before arriving at the diagnosis also, in a way, fuels the belief that physicians order many diagnostic tests just to help fill the hospitals’ coffers. Add to it daily news reports of malpractices, corruption, illegal dual practice and professional negligence, and the recipe for the trust deficit is complete. The Medical Council of India was recently disbanded and replaced by another organization, following serious accusations of misconduct and incompetence. In fact the Parliamentary Committee established to analyze the functioning of the Medical Council of India, in an seriously indicting comment, stated that the ‘the instance of unethical practice continues to grow due to which respect for the profession has dwindled and distrust replaced the high status the doctor once enjoyed in society’. If the statutory body responsible for overseeing of medical education and ethical standards of doctors is indicted and thrown out, it would hardly inspire confidence among the people.

Another seemingly minor, yet significant development has been the abundant availability of information on the Internet that often seeds doubts into the minds of patients viz a viz their medical condition and treatment. Asking ‘Dr Google’ during a treatment has become a common practice among patients, and contributes to them doubting the doctor’s prescription or ability to diagnose.

In a nutshell, the trust-shaped hole in the doctor-patient relationship is a real concern today, and needs to be addressed with utmost honesty.

Building the Burnt Bridges

With the halo of nobility gradually waning, patients no longer trust doctors completely. However, as medical professionals dedicated to the cause of healing, the responsibility of restoring this trust must also rest with the medical community. Here is what we can and must do:

Adopt a more inter-personal touch

Times have changed. Unlike a few decades back, patients are more aware and armed with a lot of information. Doctors must take this into account while treating an individual. Here, it is important to adopt a more inter-personal approach with each patient. The requirement to accommodate more patients everyday notwithstanding, we must give sufficient time to hearing out patients; at the same time effort must be made to explain the line of treatment being adopted, as also quell any doubts they have. Explain, talk more, listen attentively, even if you know the patient’s doubt is unfounded. More importantly, assure them — with words and body language — that they are safe in your hands.

Be more compassionate

While doctors see innumerable sufferings on a daily basis, we must try to treat patients with more compassion and empathy. Being empathetic allows you to treat a patient with dignity and this inspires confidence. It is equally important to be empathetic to a financially week patient and try to help him/her out in managing the costs. This can be done by prescribing only generic drugs to such patients, as also by tying up with crowd-funding initiatives to seek financial aid.

Rebuild institutional trust in medical profession

The corporate houses that are investing in the field of medicine must also pay attention to the need for catering to the middle and low income class. While the luxury hospitals are good to treat high income patients and medical tourists, there is imminent need to set up more and more no-frills hospitals in each nook and corner of the country. This will also help rebuild trust in the institution of medicine.