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March 12, 2014

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Future doctors turned off by hospital attacks

VIOLENT patient-doctor confrontations in hospitals has been growing so fast that it was brought up on several occasions during the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress.

On March 7, while attending a provincial panel discussion, President Xi Jinping weighed in by saying that any violence against the medical professionals should be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.

On March 6 about 90 deputies from the medical sector submitted an emergency bill proposing that hospitals be accorded heightened security status as “public space,” like banks.

On March 5 in Chaozhou, Guangdong Province, a patient failed to respond to emergency treatment and died of alcoholic poisoning.

The patient’s relatives manhandled a doctor and marched him down the streets in a parade. Three of the relatives were detained by police.

In 2013, there were around 70,000 cases of medical disputes in China, according to a recent seminar in Shanghai.

Some medical experts believe that number to be an underestimate, for many hospitals choose to pacify troublemakers by paying them off.

These disputes are more concentrated in developed eastern China, particularly in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, where a relatively larger share of medical resources tends to attract more complicated cases.

In a particularly dark period, since late October, within 10 days, there had been seven attacks in hospitals that led to the death of three medical professionals nationwide.

In Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, a nurse remained paralyzed after being assaulted by a woman official on February 25.

As the assailant’s husband was an official in a local prosecutor’s office, there has been considerable concern over whether law enforcement can handle the case properly and impartially.

Following public outrage, the woman was detained by police a week after the incident.

Dissatisfaction with the outcome of treatment, communications breakdown, and soaring medical costs are the chief causes of such violence.

Closer scrutiny reveals some aggravating factors probably peculiar to China.

For different reasons, many Chinese patients tend to expect too much from modern medicine that is at best experimental, sometimes explorative, and always risky. Ultimately, these risks are inherent in the limitations of human understanding and human life.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is informed by a holistic view of human life, a veteran doctor in the past would sometimes ascertain first whether the patient could still benefit from treatment.

Medicine as a business

“Tree bark and grass roots might cure the disease, but they cannot save the life,” they would plead.

Media are also to a degree responsible for the hospital violence.

In reporting such confrontations, there is a tendency for some media to portray the patients as innocent victims suffering at the hands of unscrupulously greedy and incompetent medical practitioners.

Dr Zhong Nanshan told the ongoing sessions of the congress that while doctors everywhere else make a living by utilizing their medical expertise, Chinese doctors alone are kept alive by selling drugs.

That is a very provocative, but sadly true, observation.

Market-oriented reforms have effectively degraded hospitals and health care to a business, where patients are expected to “consume medical services.”

The medical supervisor has successfully weaned hospitals from financial subsidies, though it continues to dictate the price of medical services at a ridiculously low level.

That leaves some hospitals with little choice but to prescribe expensive medication, tests, procedures and treatment.

Given long hours, relatively low income, and fears of litigious patients, medicine is no longer an honored profession aspired to by promising young people.

Instead, the healing arts are shunned by the children of parents who have been in the medical profession.

Medical schools no longer get the best crop of students, as they used to, but sometimes must steadily lower their enrollment standards to meet quotas.

When medical students are also taught how to ward off murderous patients with their scalpels, it is easy to see why a huge number of graduates trained to practice medicine are heading to medical insurance firms or pharmaceutical companies.

Before long, the shortage of competent medical professionals will lead to the question: Who will heal us tomorrow?


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