Govt vows to protect medical workers amid rising doctor-patient disputes

Photo: zj.zjol.com.cn

Some 28 Chinese government agencies including the National Development and Reform Commission, People's Bank of China, and National Health Commission have released a joint document following a medical dispute at a Beijing hospital, vowing to punish those who carry out attacks on medical workers in hospitals.

A husband, identified only as Zheng, 46, allegedly beat up a doctor, He Yingdong, during an argument at the Peking University First Hospital on September 22.

The assault occurred when Zheng was told by He that his 44-year-old pregnant wife, surnamed Sun, should not undergo a caesarean on medical grounds.

But because the baby was already late, Zheng feared complications and wanted a C-section right away rather than wait for a natural delivery.

As He was explaining his reasons for the decision Zheng started to punch him, resulting in a brawl.

Later, Sun and the couple's daughter, a 19-year-old student of Capital Normal University, arrived on the scene from another part of the hospital, and then Zheng and the teenager attacked He together.

He did not fight back for fear of hurting Sun this time. As a result, he suffered a fractured jaw and eye sockets, and was hospitalized for treatment.

Beijing police on Saturday detained Zheng on suspicion of attacking three doctors.

The college student was briefly detained but given bail after she showed remorse for joining the attack and He asked for forgiveness for her.

The hospital issued a statement last week condemning the violence against doctors.

"We unswervingly safeguard medical workers' dignity," said the statement. "We call for a firm crackdown against those who attack them."

Capital Normal University then said it reserved "serious punishment" for Zheng's daughter.

The Ministry of Public Security warned on Saturday that it had zero tolerance for hospital violence.

"The police have been carrying out a severe crackdown on hospital-related violent crimes," it said on its official Weibo account.

Rising medical disputes

The incidence of patient-doctor dispute is rising alarmingly in China, even though the government has taken more measures to improve the security of medical workers and has encouraged to resolve disputes through legal means since 2010.

According to a report, annual incidents of medical disputes have dramatically increased from 6,324 cases in 2003 to 115,000 cases in 2014, and medical workers face daily verbal abuse in almost every Chinese hospital.

Just in 2012, seven medical workers were killed, which is approximately half of the total number of deaths in the previous nine years.

The murder of an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor at Wenling Hospital in southeast China's Zhejiang Province in 2013 shocked medical workers in China and hundreds of medical staff gathered together to request a safe working environment.

Recent severe violence to medical workers in China is the result of a confluence of inappropriate incentives in the health system, the consequent distorted behaviors of physicians, mounting social distrust of the medical profession, and institutional failures of the legal system.

Since early 1980s, health care in China has been commercialized. The rapid growth of medical cost has surpassed patients' affordability, and a severe disease may cost the lifetime earnings of a family.

Some patients also feel that they're in a disadvantageous position when they face doctors and many attribute high medical costs to over-prescription.

In any case, if a dispute arises, they don't trust the local adjudicator in the dispute, and argue that the person could favor the hospital and doctor since the two have a similar education and professional background and may be in cahoots with each other.

Way out

Doctors' medical skills and communication with potential violent patients can play a crucial role in controlling medical disputes, according to experts.

"Medical workers should learn to transform elusive medical terminologies into words which are understandable for patients, and try to persuade them to respect their decisions rather than ignore their concerns," Yue Yuan, a postgraduate of the University of Tennessee, wrote in a story for the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, a neutral and fair judicial system to evaluate the medical dispute must be established, which should process independently and promptly, and should not be controlled by medical administrator or government. The suspected violent patients should be listed in the computer system and the medical workers warned to treat them cautiously.


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