Patient rights - need for protection beyond insurance

Concerned Public Activist

Modified 19 Dec 2019, 11:18 pm

LETTER | Our nation has been taken by storm many times with news reports on medical errors (negligence). Even more recently with the re-emergence of polio after 27 years. As citizens we hope for minimal statistics on death rates, outbreak of disease and medical errors. 

Close to 10 percent (RM30.6 billion) of the budget has been allocated for health sectors, which received a 6.6 percent increase from the last budget, with RM60 million set aside for vaccines, RM416 million for new hospitals and the remaining amount allocated for non-communicable disease (NCD), which is being given out to the MySalam scheme, Peka 40 and other groups of interest. 

Even so, being a citizen above the age of 40, it is a struggle for me to cope with the recovery process from health issues when there is a continuous denial of information. 

It falls back to the patient for a need to appoint solicitors from out of our hard-earned savings despite contributing almost 30 percent of income for protection over the period of their healthy working life. In such circumstances, what protection do we have? 

As patients we bear the full burden of gathering information to ensure we are receiving appropriate treatment, in addition to coping with our health condition we have to deal with denial for information.

A healthy person will not visit the hospital or clinics, until and unless they are defined as unwell, or when a patient is defined as a "customer", in which case, they visit the hospital for medical examination to assess their fitness. "Customers" also applies to individuals who visit hospitals for assessment to prevent illnesses as they start aging. 

As for actual sick patients, these are people in need of professional advice, consultation, proper assessment and care, the moment they enter a clinic or hospital. I believe our society agrees that as patients, (irrespective of whether a B40 or M40, learned or unlearned group), we are most vulnerable to the medical language. 

We can source information easily from Dr Google but this will lead us to 101 diagnoses. Hence, we place the utmost trust on our white coat professionals to provide appropriate advice and assessment. However, when the trust erodes, complaints start to flock in.

Most complaints today are well attended to by non-governmental interest groups and members of our media, to raise funds and awareness. I couldn’t keep my inquisitive mind from probing into the death of a 12-year-old boy in Nilai who was diagnosed with a rare disease after undergoing several treatments. A case that remains a mystery for some of us. 

What mechanisms do we have to protect such patients or caregivers when we still have a rise in medical errors that can easily take away lives (as reported by the Health Ministry, Malaysian Reserve 2019) and continuous issues of understaffing and overcrowding (reported in Medical Audit 2019)?

Huge sums of our budget have also been allocated to medical schools for  diseases (research) and natural cure. 

On another note, we also expected that the initiation of DHM (Digital Health Malaysia in 2015/2016), door to door doctor and telemedicine would have resolved the overcrowding and understaffing issues. I am sure the public would like to know the outcome of such strategies.

I pose my other questions here, are we working on a solution to reduce death rates, diseases and patient numbers? Reading articles on medical issues, we believe public concern on the matter has yet to be resolved. Do we truly have the capacity to operate medical schools in Malaysia with 32 million citizens and non-citizens? 

Does existing insurance coverage provide a cushion for the uncertainties beyond medical cost and unknown diseases? Does the term "do no harm" signal a need for patient rights? Do we have any monitoring mechanism? How safe are patients from threats when free-market forces becomes a determinant of health-related cost and services? Do we need a patient tribunal? 

I have spoken to prominent activists and we agree that there is a strong need for a platform to protect patient rights.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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