Health and media experts at a seminar on Saturday called for the media to stop sensationalising health issues, and stressed the need for strengthening the provincial health care regulatory authority and enacting strong defamation laws to protect the interests of patients and doctors.
The seminar was titled ‘Healthcare Under Threat: Violence, Litigation, Errors and other Challenges’. It was organised by the Liaquat National Hospital (LNH) and Medical College at its auditorium.
Although the seminar covered various issues about health reporting, ironically no health journalists were invited to speak at the seminar where they could present their case and inform the health professionals about their working conditions and other issues, and give recommendations for improving the deteriorating relationship between the administrations of health care facilities and the media. Some journalists, however, spoke at the event but they were not health reporters.
The experts stressed the need for building strong communication linkages between the media and the health care providers and initiating training programmes for health journalists so that they could report on health issues with responsibility.
Efforts should be made to restore trust between the medical professionals and the people and between the media and the health care organisations, the speakers said. Medical errors were not always the result of negligence and they should not always be ruthlessly censured, it was said.
In his keynote address, Medical Director Dr Salman Faridi called for strengthening the health care regulatory authority of the province to safeguard the interests of both the patients and the health care providers. He urged the health care facilities to establish strong systems of dealing with patients’ complaints and establish quality control departments to provide best possible health care services to the people.
“Medical errors and complications of diseases are not negligence of health care providers. Around 250,000 people died due to medical errors in United States in 2016 which is the 10 per cent of the total deaths in the US in that particular year. Everybody commits an error but there is a difference between error and negligence,” Dr Faridi said, urging the media and society to stop blaming doctors every time some complications of diseases occurred.
“It is time to stop playing the blame game and treating medical professionals as scapegoats. Everybody makes mistakes; the world is neither smooth nor perfect,” he said. He also offered to arrange courses for medical journalists for better understanding of the health issues so that they could report them with more responsibility and care.
Representing the law enforcement agencies, DIG East Amir Farooqi said the police had to deal with caution while proceeding in cases involving doctors. Given the current situation of increasing violence and threats, the police are working their best to handle cases as carefully as possible, he maintained.
The DIG expressed his view in a session titled ‘Threats to Healthcare Professionals’ at the seminar. The session was also attended by Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, orthopaedic surgeon Prof Zaki Idrees and Citizens-Police Liaison Committee’s Zubair Habib.
Shedding light on the role of regulatory bodies in health care, Habib said the regulatory bodies needed to be fortified so that people could again have confidence in the system. “People take the law in their own hands when they don’t feel heard.”
Discussing the mob culture, Prof Idrees asked, “Why mobs are never held accountable but doctors are constantly under the threat of violence?” He added that the prevailing system did not protect doctors.
Talking about the law, Advocate Siddiqui explained that negligence could be of many types – it could be disciplinary, a civil liability or a criminal liability. Once the nature of the case was understood, it could be dealt accordingly, he added.
Siddiqui further talked about the causes of violence that the doctors had to face. “The explosion of media, increasing burden on health care [facilities] due to overpopulation, general breakdown of society, and lack of alternative means are the reasons why people react in such ways.” It is the age of rage, he remarked.
In the session, ‘Understanding Medical Negligence’, panellists expressed their views on the differences between medical negligence and human errors.
Prof Bushra Shirazi said in order to take action against medical professionals, it was important to first determine whether they had committed medical negligence or an error. “Medical negligence is when one of the steps in the standard procedure has been eliminated altogether whereas an error is when all the steps are followed but a mistake was made,” she explained.
Prof Tipu Sultan said medical malpractice and negligence was being mixed up. “We need to ascertain which actions are preventable,” he asserted.
Dr SM Nadeem and Rubeena Arif Shaikh also spoke at the session about medical negligence. The last session, ‘Role of Media in Healthcare Journalism’, focused on the role that media played in spreading violence against doctors. The panellists included journalists Mazhar Abbas and Mubashir Zaidi, doctors’ representative Dr Quratul Aman Siddiqui and LNH Public Relation Manager Anjum Rizvi.
Zaidi discussed the importance of communication between the public relations departments of the health care organisations and the media to prevent sensationalism of health cases. "Sensationalism happens when there is vacuum. If media is not facilitated, they sensationalise the issue."
Talking about the pressures created by the media, Zaidi said, "Even in the Nashwa case, the authorities decided to seal the hospital due to the pressure built up by the media." "It is important that media verified facts before publishing them, for which the health care organisations’ public relations teams should assist them," said Abbas.
Rizvi talked about the lack of training programmes for health journalists. “We don’t have responsible health reporting because there is no institution or organisation to train reporters. This is a sensitive area and needs to be dealt with utmost delicacy that our media fails to understand.”
He further discussed the lack of public relations offices in health care organisations. “The inability to build a communication bridge between the health care sector and the media is leading to mistrust and unrealistic expectations,” he said.
Dr Qurat said doctors should be presented in the media as health care providers, not as butchers. “No one mentions the 999 successful treatments done on patients but finds just one case to put doctors’ efforts down the drain,” she said. Dr Saleha Shehzad, Dr Samar Abbas Jaffer, Dr Muhammad Ather Siddiqi, Dr Tahira Yasmin, Dr Farjad Sultan and Dr Faridah Amin moderated the sessions at the seminar.