Medical negligence at its heights: Hospital throws patient into coma, serves Rs 3 crore bill
By Syed Akbar Hyderabad: “The dedicated team of doctors, nurses and philanthropists serve people withuncompromising dedication. It seeks to build a bridge between needy patients and the fastmoving medical technology of the third millennium. In a country where thousands die eachday due to their inability to access an expensive health care system, (we seek) toadvance the frontiers of specialised medical care…” boasts the Mumbai-based LilavatiHospital in its introduction to prospective patients. Going by the hospital’s tall promise of philanthropy, how much do you think theauthorities would charge from a patient, who slipped into coma due to negligence of itsmedical staff? Rs 10 lakh, Rs 50 lakh or Rs 1 crore? Hold your breath, Lilavati believesRs 3 crore is not a huge bill to be served on the family of the coma patient, who hasbeen undergoing treatment for the last two years for no fault of hers. The hospital has slapped a bill for Rs 3 crore on the family of Nazma Alam Khan ofHyderabad. Nazma slipped into coma minutes after she was administered anaesthesia forhysterectomy at Lilavati hospital in September 2008. Ever since she has been in whatdoctors call vegetative state. It was a clear cut case of medical negligence but thehospital has been issuing bills at frequent intervals much to the chagrin of her family. The last time the hospital served a bill was for Rs 1.5 crore. The latest bill isreportedly for Rs 3 crore. Nazma’s family including son and daughter have been put to alot of mental agony in the last two years and the now the bill for Rs 3 crore has onlyfurther compounded their suffering. Nazma’s family members are not willing to talk about the case. But it is learnt that theyare fighting a legal battle against the hospital authorities for medical negligence.Thanks to the legal battle, the hospital has been providing treatment to the patient,though it has been serving exorbitant bills occasionally. The family has reportedlyrefused to pay the bill as the hospital is at fault. Efforts by this correspondent to contact the authorities at Lilavati hospital failed. Thetelephone operator, after keeping on hold for 10 minutes, said the superintendent wasbusy and could not be contacted. Nazma Alam Khan’s unfortunate episode has triggered medical debate not only on the needfor safe anaesthesia practices but also the need for strong legislation on medical ethicsand patient’s rights. Strangely enough the government has double yardsticks for hospitalsrun by it and by private individuals or corporate bodies. One can bring pressure on thegovernment and seek disciplinary and penal action against doctors and other medical staffinvolved in medical negligence, besides seeking monetary compensation, if something goes wrong in government hospitals. But in the case of private hospitals, one has to gothrough the long process of fighting it out legally in a consumer court. Unless medicalnegligence is proved by the complainant, consumer courts cannot deliver justice to thevictim. “This is a complete case of medical negligence on the part of the treating doctors,especially the anaesthesia team of the hospital,” argues Dr Ramesh Reddy, chairman ofAndhra Pradesh Medical Council. The Council is empowered to derecognise doctors under itsjurisdiction in cases of proved medical negligence. Stating that a healthy woman goes for a routine hysterectomy and slips into coma afteranaesthesia, Dr Ramesh Reddy said had she developed post operative complications and beena diabetic, things would be different. “The hospital authorities have absolutely no right to charge Rs 3 crore as medical bill.Her family can either approach consumer forum and file a petition, or approachMaharashtra Medical Council and based on prima facie negligence on part of the treatingdoctors, a petition can be filed for violation of code of medical ethics. Post enquiry bya team of experts from the MC, if negligence is proved, a criminal case can be filed under Section 304 of the IPC,” he adds. The Indian Medical Association too found fault with Lilavati hospital for chargingexorbitant fee. Says Dr E Sai Prasad, honorary secretary-general, Indian MedicalAssociation, AP chapter, on humanitarian grounds in such cases, hospital should not havecharged such an exorbitant amount. “There is no justification in keeping a family in mental agony for such a long time andgive them daily hope when there has been no improvement in the condition of the woman.Instead of the hospital, the patient could be shifted to home and kept under the care ofnurses,” Dr Prasad observes. The Consumer Protection Act defines medical negligence as a failure to exercisereasonable skill and care in diagnosis and treatment as per the prevalent standards asthat particular point of time. =============== Rights of Patients ===============The World Health Organisation has recognized patient’s rights as part and parcel of humanrights. Supreme Court has declared that medical treatment is a service and hence fallsunder the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. As consumers, patients or theirrelatives have every right to demand information from the doctor/hospital concerned. 1. Patient has the right to information. He must be told about all the facts regardingthe illness, the procedure to be undertaken and the risk involved, if any 2. Patient has the right to access his or her medical records, investigative reports etc. 3. Patients enjoy the right to know about the doctor or doctors attending him or her,like doctor’s qualification, whether any case of medical negligence is pending, doctor’sexpertise in the given field and the number of successful and failed cases. In USAhospitals make it a point to include medical negligence cases, if any, in the profile oftheir panel doctors. 4. Patients enjoy their right to confidentiality about their treatment and the medicalproblem. 5. Patients have right to compensation in case of medical negligence. ============== What was the case ============== Nazma Alam Khan was admitted to Lilavati Hospital for hysterectomy in September, 2008. She slipped into coma after she was given anaesthesia. The doctor who gave heranaesthesia reportedly committed suicide two months later. Nazma’s family filed complaint with the Mumbai police, following which the hospitalreportedly agreed to provide free medical treatment till she recovers. The hospital failed to keep up its promise of free treatment. Much to the shock ofNazma’s family, the hospital served a bill for Rs 1.5 crore within six months of theanaesthesia going wrong. The family decided to fight it out legally and contested thebill. Last week the family got bill for Rs 3 crore.