Patients left in disharmony
The Medical Council yesterday gave people a rather unpleasant surprise with its announcement detailing the obligations of patients seeking medical services.
The announcement, which was also published in the Royal Gazette, features 10 guidelines.
Some of them are commonplace: Patients should follow recommendations from medical personnel and inform them immediately if suggestions cannot immediately be followed up on; patients should also disclose their health records fully, and patients should comply with hospital rules and regulations.
Some points do appear dubious, however. For example, one stated that patients should realise that exercising their rights to medical care must not violate those of others.
How should this recommendation be interpreted? What exactly is the council trying to encourage or bar? Some of the instructions seem to border between orders and advice.
The fifth guideline said patients should avoid disrupting the honest practice of medical and health personnel. If patients disagree with the practice, they can offer their recommendation or send a petition to the hospital.
The seventh guideline, meanwhile, said public health resources are expensive and limited in quantity. Actions by patients made out of ignorance may result in a waste of those precious resources and backfire on the patients' own treatment as well as that of others.
If this is to serve as a practical guide, patients would have a hard time understanding what would qualify as "actions out of ignorance".
The same is true with another point in the announcement which said patients should avoid or abstain from "any actions which may disturb personnel [from] carrying out their duties in the emergency room". The instruction seems too ambiguous to be put into practice.
But, if this is an "order", then the definition of what would qualify as "any action which may disturb personnel [from] carrying out their duties" is too broad and would become highly contested should a dispute arise.
This does not mean that the Medical Council's announcement is all bad. Indeed, it carries some points worthy of patients' attention. These points include a reminder that patients should respect the privacy of health personnel, and that of other patients.
The announcement also informed patients that they should read and understand the consent form for medical treatment or seek clarification in case they have questions before signing it.
The good points cannot obscure the announcement's overall doubtful content, however.
Most important of all, the Medical Council is a professional body whose main missions are to register and regulate medical practitioners and maintain medical standards in the country.
In issuing the order, the council relied on the Medical Profession Act of 1982 which empowered it to "promote the studies, research, and professional practices in medicine" and "to assist, to advise, to disseminate and to educate the public and other organisations in matters concerning medicine and public health".
The law does not seem to allow the council to "regulate" the public when it comes to medical services, however. That means the announcement's status is questionable. Its content is also unclear and impractical.
The council said its intention was to forge harmony between doctors and patients to enable effective treatment. Releasing a semi-official announcement does not appear to be the best way to do so.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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