Thanks to the initiative of the wonderful lady, Ms Subarna Ghosh, the issue of unnecessary caesareans has finally caught the much needed attention. 139,104 women across the country signed the petition for caesarean section statistics to be publicly available and now the ministry is prying deep into the matter. As a birth educator, it feels like a milestone, an achievement of exponential awareness of such a critical matter.
In today’s blog, I wanted to write about the scenario of patient rights in our country. Before I get into that, I would like to say that I never call pregnant moms ‘patients’. It’s against my principles as pregnancy is not a disease. It is a beautiful time in a woman’s life. However, since maternity is predominantly hospital-led in our country and unfortunately moms are called ‘patients’, I would be using the word ‘patient’ throughout this article.
I have grown up in India and have had more than my share of hospital visits. At a very early age of 17, I understood the hard truth about the invisibility of patient rights. It’s not because it doesn’t exist, It’s because there is a strong sense of power gap between a doctor and a patient. If anyone has done a course in HR, you will know it as power distance. For the rest of you, let me explain. Power distance is basically the way in which power is distributed and the extent to which the less powerful accept that power is distributed unequally. In research done across cultures, its said that eastern countries have a higher power distance as compared to the west. In the case of healthcare, I’m not sure if there is a lot of difference.
In a patient’s mind, the power distance between him/her and the doctor is alarmingly high. We, as a culture, consider doctors as God. It is true that doctors save our lives and make us healthier individuals. Our world wouldn’t be the same without this profession. I truly owe my life to the miraculous work of brilliant doctors. However, the commercialization of healthcare has its affects. As a child, I never remember my parents ever questioning any doctor as to why a certain test needs to be done or why a medicine needs to be taken. Over the years, through conversations with others, I have realized that the scenario is the same in majority of our homes. We never question. We never ask why.
When I discovered this at the age of 17, I decided to take it upon myself. Guess the responses I received- “Do you think you know better?”, “The kids nowadays are so arrogant!”, “Just take the medicines and get the tests done” etc. There was never any reasoning as to why I had to do what they asked me to! I think that was the time I subconsciously decided to be in profession that helps people make informed decisions.
For over 3 years now, I have been urging women to question their care providers about the care they receive. But in my experience, we, as a society are still scared to do so. Some doctors get offended if the patient questions anything they say. Some just don’t have the time to spend with every patient. The never ending list of appointments make them want to finish the patients so quick that they don’t have the time to listen to what the patient has to say. Either way, In the end, it is the patient who suffers.
I have been to many hospitals across many cities. A lot of them have patient rights leaflets displayed in the OPD. Let me ask you, how many of you actually read it? If you have read it, do you feel that you truly have those rights? Are you a 100% confident that you can stand for those rights without feeling scared or named as the ‘troublesome patient’? Have you ever questioned your obstetrician why something needs to be done? Do you feel like you have been given enough information to make an informed decision? Have you had a situation where you thought it was an informed decision only to realise later that it wasn’t?
This write up is a shout out to everyone who uses the healthcare system but especially the wonderful mothers. Do not be afraid to stand up for your rights. Ensure that you always make informed decisions. Go for a second opinion if you are doubtful. Like every other thing in the world, good and bad exist in this industry too. Not all doctors and hospitals are bad, however, you never know what kind of a person/situation you encounter until it actually happens to you. If you feel you are not being given the time or attention you deserve, change your doctor/hospital. There are hundreds of brilliant, caring and truly dedicated doctors out there. It’s worth the effort to find a care provider who actually cares about you and your rights. After all it’s your life!
L.C.C.E, C.L.E, Prenatal Yoga Instructor