Why some of our doctors have such poor bedside manners?

I have often wondered, why some of our doctors have such poor bedside manners and never more so since my father’s surgery.

My father underwent an urgent Prostate Surgery earlier this week. The surgery was conducted at one of the most well-known and if I may add, sought after hospitals in South Delhi. The hospital and the surgeon are familiar to me from many years and yet this is what happened one evening.

The surgery in the morning had been uneventful and the surgeon was happy with my father’s progress. In the evening as my wife and I sat in his room in the hospital, two gentlemen barged in and started examining my father. They lowered his pyjamas for the examination, chatted with each other, assured him that all was well and walked off. As they were leaving I asked them who they were and one of them introduced himself as an associate of my father’s surgeon and left.

Now here is my problem.

I have no idea who these people were. They wore no surgeon’s gowns, they had no telltale stethoscope around their necks. They marched into our room without a knock and proceeded to examine a patient, without his permission. They removed his pyjamas for an examination, with two people sitting in the room and the door wide open. I was shocked to witness this humiliation and I could feel my father’s acute discomfort.

To the doctors, strangely nothing appeared to be amiss! When I stepped out to have a word with these gentlemen and pointed out their completely unacceptable behaviour, they appeared surprised that a patient’s attendant has the gall to question them and arrogantly dismissed me saying that if I had any complaints I needed to address those to my surgeon! They did not deem it fit to utter a word of apology for their appalling conduct.

All this at as I said earlier  at one of  Delhi’s finest and most expensive hospital.

Why do some doctor’s treat their patients as if they do not exist or matter? I believe this is primarily because we patients allow them to. In India, a career in medicine enjoys tremendous social prestige and doctors are treated with enormous amount of respect. We bestow on our doctors God like powers of life and death and since in our eyes they are Gods, we refuse to see their shortcomings and failings. Gods afterall can treat us, the mere mortals, as they please.

To make matters worse, most of our doctors receive their training in government hospitals, where the poor and the uneducated see these doctors in their shiny white coats and stethoscopes as people from another world. In these hospitals overflowing with people from ‘darkness’ (to borrow a word from Arvind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’) they are treated as the lords and the masters of all whom they survey. These doctors  from an early stage in their training imbibe these behavioural patterns and one assumes that in later life, in different hospitals and while treating educated folks, the old habits refuse to die.

Lastly I also believe, that parental and peer pressure force many a youngster to choose medicine as a career, while they just do not have the calling. The admission procedures are also flawed as they test knowledge but not aptitude. Thus we have doctors, who have no business being doctors. They are trapped in a glorified profession from which there truly is no escape. Can we really blame them for (mis)treating patients the way they do?

How do we cope with such arrogant and errant doctors? Well, I see no reason why we cannot simply ask them to treat us better. Their ego may stand in the way of apologising or showing contrition, but I am sure they will think twice about being discourteous the next time around.

And that should be a good enough start.

PS:Lest this sounds like a diatribe against doctors I hasten to add that I also know many very competent doctors who treat patients with great courtesy and professionalism. They are warm individuals, love their work, have great compassion for the sick and look upon their profession as nothing less than a calling. They not only treat but heal and that is where the real difference lies.

PicCourtesy: http://thyroid.about.com/b/2008/08/19/six-rules-doctors-need-to-know-and-six-ways-to-be-a-better-patient.htm