Public healthcare merely a safety net


WHILE Malaysians tend to take pride in our public healthcare system, I have a different opinion.

One of my parents was recently admitted to a large reference hospital in northern Malaysia. After observing the situation there, I quickly came to conclude that public hospitals are not meant for all Malaysians including taxpayers like me. They are meant mostly for those in the B40 group or government employees. The M40 and T20 are expected to receive their care in private hospitals instead.

This could be seen in the way the doctors (particularly) and nurses in this public hospital treated their patients. They scolded patients openly and spoke to them in a very condescending manner. They also ignored patients’ calls for help, saying they were too busy doing their rounds. Every patient seemed to be a burden on them and an additional workload they could just ignore.

We saw doctors with poor bedside manners and wondered what they were actually taught in medical school. Worse of all, this was a teaching hospital. Perhaps the emphasis on grades rather than empathy and humanity produced these doctors.

The medical students or house officers or pharmacists (there was no way to identify them) didn’t even bother to introduce themselves to the patients. Consent was never asked before reviewing patients’ personal data, and they ignored the persons lying in the bed.

Shouldn’t the Health Ministry make it mandatory for medical students/ house officers/ pharmacists to introduce themselves and request consent before reviewing the personal data of patients? Could patients in public hospitals actually decline to be examined by these medical students/ house officers?

While I appreciate the importance of teaching our future doctors, I am asking this question more from the purview of the rights of patients in public hospitals. Do they even have the right to decline because their treatments are highly subsidised by the government? And mind you, the subsidy is from our tax money.

Some of the wards are also in severe need of renovation or at least a fresh coat of paint. Perhaps because Malaysians are so used to having extremely low expectations of our authorities, we ignore the importance of making sure our hospitals look welcoming to patients and visitors alike. Perhaps public hospitals operate with the view that beggars can’t be choosers. This might be why no attention is paid to the condition in the wards, and long waiting times and lines at our public hospitals.

There should also be a method for evaluating doctors so that only those with the right bedside manners are chosen. For far too long, we have put medical doctors on a pedestal and transformed them into an entitled group of individuals. The condescending tone and contempt shown towards patients (and nurses) in our hospitals are due to lack of accountability among these doctors. The only fear they may have is being blacklisted by medical insurance companies.

Holding our doctors accountable and demanding that they provide care based on empathy and humanity should start with patient experience surveys.

After my experience in this public hospital, I beg to differ with the view that we have a universal healthcare system. Instead, we merely have a safety net.

CONFLICTED MALAYSIAN , Penang

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