The Medical council of Tamil Nadu recently forbade doctors from having websites saying it was ‘unethical and amounts to advertisement’.
As India moves towards becoming Digital India, as Justice Lodha frames new rules for the Medical Council of India, isn’t it time we revisited the principles governing the practice of Medicine in India?
It’s a small world
We’re going global. The world wants to come to India for Medical treatment because Indian doctors are knowledgeable, experienced and healthcare in India is reasonably priced. How can doctors announce themselves to the world without even a website? Patients never go to hospitals. They go to a particular doctor. Websites for doctors are a must in today’s world.
Doctors are not merely medicine men or women. Or surgeons. They may be owners of a clinic, a nursing home or a hospital. They may have invested in real estate and equipment. They employ other doctors, nursing staff, paramedical workers, receptionists, managers, and even cooks and cleaners. They pay commercial prices in rent, electricity and water supply. They have to maintain everything in pristine condition since it is lives they deal with. They pay insurance and for various permissions. How do they keep all this going without at least announcing their presence and services offered by them in the form of a hoarding, a website, or a ‘yellow page listing’? The moment they do this, they get slapped with notices from their Medical Councils that it’s unethical to advertise. But if a non medico or a non allopathic doctor owns a hospital, [they can advertise because the Medical Councils can only suspend licences of allopathic doctors] that's okay. Many societies where our clinics are located don’t allow even a decent sized board visible from the street. How will people know we are there to look after them? Please give the poor MBBS a break.
Piece of the pie
Another of our PM Modi’s plans for India is to curb the parallel economy. How does a doctor fill his or her hospital if they can’t announce themselves to the community? They resort to malpractices like ‘cuts’ or referral fees to other doctors who refer patients, even to Hospital receptionists, ward boys, cab drivers, ‘agents’ anybody who sends them patients. And from where does this money come? From hiding income and not paying tax. By forbidding websites and announcements in the press, the government is just fueling the Black economy. Let patients directly find their doctors instead and do away with all middle men. This will also curb unindicated surgeries or tests.
The privileged clubs
Who benefits from the ‘no advertisement’ clause? Corporate hospitals-because they can advertise. Clinic chains. Old established doctors because the competition gets no mileage-they are the ones on all committees and councils and very keen on this rule. The American Medical association has done away with this rule for this very reason. In today’s world where people settle wherever their job takes them, patients need the digital world to find a good doctor. The good old family doctor cannot advise you on who is best. A corporate hospital or clinic chain may have really young and raw doctors to attend to you or a doctor who knows the owner or is politically connected to get the attachment- not necessarily the best doctor for the job.
We don’t want to make tall claims or quote false results. We just want to be allowed to inform the public at large that here is a doctor with these degrees who can treat you for these conditions at this price. Or who has special expertise in a particular area. Or who offers extras like a weekend clinic or low priced clinic or all women staff or senior consultants or unique procedures. Nobody forces patients to a treatment. We want them to make an informed choice. And maybe talk to other patients of ours for a feedback.
Miracle cures are announced by homeopaths, ayurveda practioners, gym owners, dieticians, fitness experts in all newspapers and magazines and on the net all the time. No action is taken against them. Why be so very strict with allopathic doctors who don’t want to make tall claims, just to announce their existence on a street, an area, a city or a country? The Medical councils are welcome to issue strict warnings in case false claims are made or miracle cures announced. But to completely take away our right to put up signages or websites is extreme.
Dog eat dog
In an intensely competitive world, often it’s the competition that complains about a doctor who has made any kind of announcement thereby threatening the existing kings or queens. News paper interviews are given or such complaints ‘leaked’ to newspapers to demean the doctor and ruin his or her reputation and practice –benefitting the one who complained. By all means take action against offenders but let there be a law against vilification of doctors by other doctors or administrative officials or going to the press before a case is tried in court. Just as there is a law against physical abuse against doctors let there be a law against newspaper statements or cyber abuse.
Multi headed hydra
Okay. Today you forbid websites. And Facebook pages. Tomorrow Whatsapp accounts, yellow pages like Justdial, Practo, Sulekha, then Instagram, Snapchat, apps for doctors, google adverts, use of SEOs , PR firms, advertorials in short, wipe out a doctor's existence in print or the virtual world. For every head you cut, two will spring in its place. We don’t even know what new technology tomorrow will bring. How can Medical Councils keep tabs on everything and everyone? It’s time to get real and allow doctors a level playing field within reasonable boundaries of course. We don’t want to ‘solicit’ patients or ‘advertise’ or claim greatness. We just want to inform the public and announce our presence on the web and on the street where we work.
May the best get their due.