A doctor examines eyes for a patient. — Photo benhvienthucuc.vn
By Khánh Vân
The power of the social media has become increasingly obvious over the last few years, and wherever there is power, there is huge potential for it to be abused.
Therefore, the latest instance of a female doctor in Hà Nội being suspended over a video that showed her putting a leg up on a chair when talking with a patient’s parent deserves a more careful look.
There are two aspects to public outrage, one that is justified and another that is a knee-jerk reaction akin to a lynch mob’s fury, an irrational response that should be seen and dealt with for what it is.
The Health Ministry has suspended the doctor after she, and the healthcare sector as a whole, took a lot of flak over the video that went viral on the web. The doctor was seen as being arrogant, and since the arrogance of the medical staff towards patients has been a long-standing public grouse, not much fuel was needed to set off a blaze of anger.
It can be said that social media can help keep the establishment on its toes, instantaneously spotlighting slip-ups, but this is not the whole truth. Without trivializing the question of how doctors should behave with their patients, which is a big subject involving power relations that has been and is being researched by social scientists including anthropologists, there is an even larger issue to be considered.
Doctors have to be confident in doing their job and not forced to be defensive about the smallest error. In this case, the error has been created by over-zealous netizens.
The doctor clearly intends no disrespect as she talks in the video. She has placed a leg on a chair in the manner of a person resting her or his tired legs. She is telling a father who accuses her of not checking his daughter’s eyes thoroughly that she has done so, there is no need to do it again, and that there are many other patients waiting. She is not being rude or arrogant as she responds.
The fact that many comments on the video focused on the leg on the chair, and not the conversation itself, shows more attention was paid to form than substance.
However, the hospital leaders have said she was suspended because her action left a bad impression on patients, affecting the image of doctors as well as the prestige of the healthcare sector, failed to meet Health Ministry regulations as well as the hosptital’s rules on medical workers’ attitude towards patients.
This is making a mountain out of a molehill, and benefits neither the doctors and other medical staff nor the patients they serve.
There have been far more egregious breaches of ethics and morals in the healthcare sector over the last few years, including last month’s discovery of import of low-quality cancer drugs by the Việt Nam Pharma Company. Serious malpractices by medical staff have also come to light.
In 2013, a 39-year-old woman in Hà Nội died on the operating table while undergoing a breast enhancement procedure at a private clinic. The doctor who performed the operation dumped her body in the river. The same year, Hà Nội Police prosecuted ten health officials from Hoài Đức Hospital for duplicating around 1,000 blood test results for up to 2,000 patients, and one can only imagine the potential consequences in terms of disease diagnosis and treatment.
There are other serious challenges facing the healthcare sector. Public hospitals in Việt Nam, especially at the central level, have to deal with such overloading that several patients are forced to share a bed, while private hospitals function at just 50-60 per cent of their capacity, according to the Việt Nam Social Security (VSS) administration.
All stakeholders need to devote all their energy to solving such serious problems, not add to them.
Doctor Trần Văn Phúc of the Saint Paul Hospital in Hà Nội said the healthcare sector in general, and doctors in particular, bear the burden of huge, sometimes unrealistic expectations, so singling out doctors for blame over every incident does not help.
A doctor is also a normal person who gets tired after long working hours. An ophthalmologist friend of mine, working in Hà Nội, said she was often exhausted after sitting in the same place for a long time, examining hundreds of patients a day. “There are days I’ve had to sit at the table from 6am to 12pm. So putting up our legs on chairs is a way to relax,” she said.
It cannot be forgotten that a doctor in Việt Nam, especially in the public sector, has to see hundreds of patients a day, unlike a dozen or so in more “developed” countries. This constant pressure borne by doctors and other medical staff in overcrowded public hospitals cannot be ignored, and instead of finding ways to alleviate this pressure, we cannot afford to add to it with frivolous complaints, as has happened in this case.
The public has a right to record actions by public servants and expose wrongdoings, but even this right cannot be abused. In countries like Sweden and Japan, filming or taking photos of doctors or inside the hospitals are forbidden.
People certainly cannot forget an incident earlier this year when the father of a child patient seriously injured a doctor in Hà Nội’s Thạch Thất District. The doctor was hit on the head with a thick glass. He fainted and the wound required seven stitches.
According to the World Health Organisation, between 8 per cent and 38 per cent of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers. Many more are threatened or exposed to verbal aggression. Patients and visitors perpetrate most of the violence.
Destroying doctors’ confidence or forcing them to be defensive is an unwise tactic that can undermine healthcare quality in the country.
A doctor’s job is to treat patients to the best of his or her ability, and in doing so, many of them save the lives of seriously ill or injured people. Subjecting such people to additional, unnecessary pressure by pandering to unjustified complaints is bad management, and this is what authorities have showcased in this case. - VNS