CONSUMER PROTECTION IN MEDICAL SCIENCES

Updated: Mar 14

INTRODUCTION

The medical profession is one of the most respected professions where doctors are called as the real heroes. The relationship between the doctors and patients are based on mutual trust. Every doctor has the duty to protect everyone who is suffering from any disease or whose life is at risk that’s why doctors are treated like a God. But today in the modern scenario, doctors are involved in carrying out illegal abortions and treating dead bodies for long showing them alive in front of their families so that they can earn extra money. Also, some doctors negligently do their work and as a result, the patients face many problems in future. Today, it is very important for the patients to know their rights in the hospitals. A doctor has the duties towards their patients which they have to do with due care. If the doctor fails to act with due care, then he will be liable for the medical negligence. The patients need to know that if the doctor does any medical negligence, at what forum they can go for their compensation.

WHO IS CONSUMER AND OBJECTIVES OF CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT?

A consumer means a person who buys any goods or hires any service or services for consideration which has been paid or partly paid and partly promised.[1] Every person who hires or avails services of a medical practitioner after payment comes within the ambit of consumer section 2 (1) (0) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986.[2] The patient is also a consumer as they give consideration for their treatment and the doctors provide them with their services.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted on 24th December 1986. Therefore, 24th December is declared as “National Consumer Day”. The Consumer Protection Act, seeks to promote and protect the right of the consumers such as:

  1. The right to be protected against marketing of services which are hazardous to life and property.[3]

  2. The consumers have the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, standard and price of goods and services well before going for it.

  3. The right to be assured, wherever possible, access to an authority of goods and services at competitive price.

  4. The right to be heard and assured that consumer’s interest will receive due consideration at forums.

  5. Right to consumer education.

To settle the consumer’s disputes, consumer courts i.e. quasi-judicial mechanism has been established in the district, state and central level. The consumer courts do not take the court fee therefore, the consumer protection act comes out to be customer friendly and the court’s decision comes out in 3-6 months.

The Supreme Court held that service given to a patient by a doctor by way of consultation, diagnosis and treatment, would fall within the ambit of ‘service’ as defined in Section 2(1) (o) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.[4] When a patient has any grievance against a doctor or hospital (either Government or private hospital), the person can file a case with a consumer forum, civil Court and criminal court for seeking compensation for damages arising out of wrong treatment or removal of sensitive body parts during operation.[5] The aggrieved person can also file complaint to the Medical Superintendent of the concerned Hospital with copy to Chief Medical Officer of his area. If he is not satisfied with the reply of the concerned official then he can send his complaint to the State Medical council of his area. Then also if he is not satisfied, he can send his complaint to the Medical Council of India.

In India, there are different other legal provisions dealing with the rights of patients such as Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations 2002; The Consumer Protection Act 1986; Drugs and Cosmetic Act 1940, Clinical Establishment Act 2010 and Article 21 of Constitution of India. But India, does not have a specific regulation dealing with the interests of the patients.

EXPLOITATION OF PATIENTS BY THE DOCTORS AND THEIR REMEDIES

There are various cases where patients are exploited by the hospitals. Recently in Madhya Pradesh, an 80-year old man was tied to the hospital bed as he failed to pay the hospital dues in the Shajapur City hospital.[6] Doctors often fail to tell the real condition of the patient to their families and in result, they take excess money for the treatment of the patients. Not only this, some doctors also rape their women patient in the hospitals. The patient said in her complaint that the doctor had injected her with a sedative and raped her.[7] Therefore, patients can also complain under Indian Penal Code as in this case the doctor imposes a criminal liability. Also, there are various rackets running in the hospital like fake kidney transplants. The doctors usually say to the patient that their kidney has been damaged so they have to take it out from the body but in reality they lied to the patients and after taking out the kidney they usually sold it for some amount of money. Similar case happened in Gurgaon in 2008 where police arrested a number of people. The case is popularly known as Gurgaon Kidney scandal.[8] The case was registered under Indian Penal Code including Section 18, 19 and 20 of Transplantation of Humans Organ Act, 1994 which talks about punishment for removal of human organs without authority, punishment for commercial dealing in human organs and punishment of contravention of any other provision for this Act respectively.[9]

Medical negligence is also punishable under law of torts as negligence is an offence under law of torts and Indian Contract Act as there is a contract between patient and doctor before any treatment. If there is no express contract, then there must be an implied contract between patient and doctor before any treatment. If there is a breach of contract, the patient files the case under Indian Contract Act.

CHARTER OF PATIENT RIGHTS

There is a need of charter of patient rights because there is no consolidated uniform document which states about the rights of the patients that can be followed by all states uniformly. On 30th August 2018, the Union Health Ministry came out with a ‘a charter of patient rights’ prepared by the National Human Rights Commission, laying down the basic rights of the patient.[10] Objective of this charter is to protect the rights of the patients. Another objective of the charter of patient rights is to generate public awareness and educate the public regarding their rights. The draft contains 17 patient rights. Some of these rights are:

  1. Right to information

  2. Right to records and reports

  3. Right to emergency medical care

  4. Right to informed consent

  5. Right to confidentiality, human dignity and privacy

Right to information says that every patient and their families have the right to information on the rates to be charged by the hospital for each type of service. We come across so many news where patients are detained in the hospital for non-payment of bill. The question is that can the hospitals detain patients and bodies over non-payment of bill. According to the draft, hospitals cannot detain a patient or the dead body of a patient over non-payment of bill which is a procedural ground to be disputed in the courts. These rights and guidelines are still ‘drafts’ and unless they are made into a law backed by sanctions for non-compliance, getting hospitals to fall in the line would be difficult.

CONCLUSION

A basic knowledge for the patients as well as the doctors regarding their rights and duties is very necessary because in the modern times, we cannot trust anyone. But the irony is that we have to trust the doctors then only they can treat their patients with due care. But today, there are many cases where doctors cheat their patients just for the sake of money and the patients who belong to an illiterate family or otherwise, do not know what to do in such cases. therefore, it is very important for them to know the basic laws. The law does not seek to make any unnecessary intrusion into the territory which rightfully belongs only to medical professionals, and judges do not seek to impose their own wisdom on them.[11] Only the patients have to go to the law forums in order to get the justice done. Therefore, there are various remedies which have been discussed above through which the patients can bring their concern to the proper authority in order to get justice.


References [1] Consumer Protection Act, 1986 § 2, cl d. [2] Dr V. G. Shinde, Medical negligence liability under consumer protection Act: Judicial approaches in India, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LAW (Sept, 2017), file:///C:/Users/shali/Downloads/3-5-127-476%20(1).pdf. [3] Rahul Mishra, Know your rights: Consumers have right to be protected against marketing of goods, services hazardous to life, NEWS NATION (Nov 15, 2017, 09:08 PM), https://english.newsnationtv.com/campaign/know-your-rights/know-your-rights-consumers-have-right-to-be-protected-against-marketing-of-goods-services-hazardous-to-life-186451.html. [4] Indian Medical Association v V. P. Shantha (1995) 6 SCC 651. [5] Dr Har Ashish Jindal, Consumer Protection Act in Medical profession, UNITED STATES DOCUMENTS (Jul 2, 2015), https://documents.pub/document/consumer-protection-act-in-medical-profession.html. [6] Ani, 80-year-old man found tied to bed in MP hospital over ‘non-payment’ of bill, THE PRINT (Jun 7, 2020, 5:12 PM), https://theprint.in/india/80-year-old-man-found-tied-to-bed-in-mp-hospital-over-non-payment-of-bill/437423/. [7] Cities, Doctor who sedated and raped patient detained by police, NDTV (Jun 16, 2018, 8:59 PM), https://www.ndtv.com/cities/vadodara-doctor-who-sedated-and-raped-patient-detained-by-police-1868609. [8] Neha Pant, The fall, rise and fall of kidney racket kingpin Dr Amit Kumar, HINDUSTAN TIMES (Sep 17, 2017, 8:31 AM), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/the-fall-rise-and-fall-of-kidney-racket-kingpin-dr-amit-kumar/story-hgMheixL8H9l6k1KTNeNCN.html. [9] Ajay Sura, Gurgaon Kidney Scam: 2 doctors get seven years jail, THE TIMES OF INDIA (Mar 22, 2013, 7:38 PM), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/Gurgaon-kidney-scam-Two-doctors-get-7-years-jail/articleshow/19129441.cms. [10] Shirin Syed, Patient charter in need of a legal remedy to make it effective, THE HINDU BUSINESS LINE (March 15, 2019), https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/specials/pulse/patient-charter-in-need-of-a-legal-remedy-to-make-it-effective/article26547697.ece. [11] Amit Agrawal, medical negligence: Indian legal perspective, ANN INDIAN ACAD NEUROL (Oct 19, 2016), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5109761


Author - Shalini Gupta

Student at Galgotias University

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