Public regard for the medical profession has dropped and this is due to greedy doctors who dupe patients into undergoing unnecessary procedures and tests.
Society has always had high regard for medical professionals as they represent our path to a healthy mind and body.
We rely on their opinions and medical advice and tend to take their recommendations very seriously.
Currently, however, regard for the medical profession has dropped a little.
This is due to a small number of unethical doctors who have taken advantage of our trust in them and used it to make more money through unnecessary procedures.
More often than not, this happens in private medical institutions.
A number of anecdotal stories among people I know underscore this. Take for example, a recent story told to me by a 33-year-old woman, pregnant with her first child, who went to a private maternity centre to give birth instead of a government hospital.
Her periodic check-ups went along fine until she was about seven months pregnant.
At that point in time, she was informed by her doctors that her blood tests indicated there was something wrong with the child she was carrying and there was a strong possibility that the child had Down Syndrome.
She was informed that she had to go for a number of different tests – all of which would obviously cost a lot of money.
Although she wasn’t that concerned about the cost, she became very afraid for the future of her unborn child.
So, after speaking to her family members, she decided to go to a public hospital to get a second opinion.
At the public hospital, they conducted a number of tests on her.
These were all free under the Malaysian public health system. After results were obtained, she was informed that the baby seemed perfectly fine and she had nothing to worry about.
She then decided to deliver her baby in the public hospital. When her child was born, it was perfect, and there was nothing wrong. Other stories such as this exist, although probably not as horrifying.
There is another story about an eight-year-old boy who suffered from fever, cough and was vomiting for a day.
He did not have any abdominal pains. His father took him to see a general practitioner who then told him to take his son to a particular surgeon at a private medical centre.
At the centre, the surgeon, when examining, pressed down so hard on the boy’s abdomen that it caused him pain.
The surgeon then insisted that the boy had a perforated appendix and insisted that he undergo an operation that very night.
However, about an hour before the surgery, the father, feeling uneasy, decided to get a second opinion. He asked for his son to be discharged and took him to another doctor.
This doctor found that the son did not have a perforated appendix and instead treated him for an upper respiratory tract infection, something common among children of that age.
I am sure that many other stories like these exist out there and readers have been through similar experiences.
The outrage we feel when faced with such incidents has to do with a betrayal of our trust.
As far as I know, doctors take the age-old Hippocratic Oath when they begin practising medicine.
Considered a rite of passage, the oath hinges on the duty of the doctor to practise medicine in an ethical manner, in the best interest of his or her patient.
When faced with stories like these, one can’t help but wonder what has happened to the Hippocratic Oath?
Do doctors these days, especially those in private medical institutions, no longer take this oath?
Or does the making of money trump any public duty they hold to practise their profession in an ethical manner?
It is clear that we have to be aware of our rights as consumers when it comes to doctors as well. In fact, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has procedures where a complaint can be filed against any doctor practising medicine in Malaysia.
To file a formal complaint, the MMA requires the person making the complaint to submit the full facts of the case, clearly stating the allegations against the medical practitioner.
The Consumer Association of Penang also advises consumers on their rights under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Regulations 2006.
These regulations provide patients with the right to request and receive information on the estimated charges for services provided as well as other unanticipated charges for routine services.
The public also have the right to complain to the hospital or medical centre in question about any issues they may have about their treatment at the hospital.
In such cases, the private hospital must establish a patient grievance mechanism which includes the appointment of a Patient Relations Officer to act as a liaison between the patient and the hospital.
It is clear that we have to be more aware of our rights when it comes to private medical practitioners.
In many cases, it would involve doing some independent research into the symptoms of the illness and the appropriate care required.
Also, getting a second opinion when doubtful seems to be the best course of action.
Do you have any stories to share on bad encounters with private medical practitioners?
If you do, share them with me, and in my next column, I will share your stories.
It is time we start being more aware of our rights as patients.
> Sheila Stanley is a writer, TV producer and PR/media consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. You can share your thoughts with her on Twitter @sheila_stanley or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.