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Hospitals' return to public service key to tackle doctor-patient disputes

English.news.cn   2012-11-19 20:16:44            

By Xinhua writer Cao Kai

BEIJING, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- About 30 percent of medical personnel in China have had disputes with patients, according to the findings of a national forum of hospital presidents in central China's Wuhan City on Saturday.

It's not a surprising discovery if you consider the frequent hospital brawls between patients and doctors in recent years. In September, a man dissatisfied with his treatment stabbed four medical staff and a security guard in Shenzhen Pengcheng Hospital, leaving two of them seriously wounded.

In March, a teenager stabbed a doctor to death and injured three others at a hospital in the northeastern city of Harbin as he misunderstood his treatment prescribed by doctors.

According to survey results published by the China Hospital Management Association, medical-treatment disputes have risen by an average of 23 percent every year since 2002.

This wave of violence underscores deepening strain in doctor-patient relations. A big part of the problem is an overcrowded and under-funded medical system.

Seemingly, the clashes originate from mistrust between doctors and patients. Actually, deviation from the hospitals' public brief has led to this appalling trend.

Hospitals' pursuit of profits due to insufficient funding has made the relationship between doctors and patients one of competition. Doctors sometimes prescribe excessively and overuse medical equipment to satisfy the operating costs, a practice that often leads to resentment.

Since China's opening up in 1978, the government has gradually reduced its investment in medical care.

China's medical expenditure accounts for only 5.1 percent of the gross domestic product, less than Brazil's 9 percent and India's 8.9 percent, said Chen Zhu, Chinese health minister, at a forum in September.

In China, the government sponsors less than 10 percent of the operating costs of public hospitals, which have to find other ways to make ends meet.

The strained institutions have transferred their pressures to doctors. These professionals work more than 10 hours a day and can examine more than 100 patients per shift, according to a study by Peking University.

It's little surprise that patients are often angry when their diagnosis process is always less than one minute and the doctors have no patience to listen to their pains but make quick prescriptions instead.

The medical system forces doctors to over-prescribe expensive medicine; otherwise, neither they nor the hospitals can survive.

Meanwhile, because of the disparity between urban and rural medical resources, patients tend to queue overnight for registration in urban hospitals, especially those in big cities, which has added to doctors' workloads.

China's urban doctor-patient ratio was 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people in 2011, according to statistics released by the Chinese Ministry of Health. In rural areas, the ratio was 0.95 doctors per 1,000 people.

Treatment for a simple cold can reportedly cost over 1,000 yuan (159 U.S. dollars) in some urban hospitals. Frequent medical malpractice has occurred and the arbitration of medical disputes often drags on for years.

Lack of communication between doctors and patients, as well as uneven technical levels among medical staff, are also among the leading causes of medical contention.

One of the more obvious ways to address the conflict is by reforming the medical system itself: finding new ways to finance medical care; building more hospitals; and streamlining regulations to resolve medical disputes more smoothly.

Violence like that seen in Harbin in March and Shenzhen in September should be punished by law. But doctors should also have a greater sense of responsibility when treating their patients.

The Chinese government has already taken actions to contain the rising discord on display in hospitals. Reform of public hospitals began in 2009. Hospitals in 16 cities are experimenting a separation of medical service from medicine sales, which can reduce the costs for patients and improve salaries of the doctors.

With proper measures in place, a harmonious doctor-patient relationship is likely to emerge.

Editor: Tang Danlu
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