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China struggles with surging doctor-patient disputes

2014-03-07 18:03 Xinhua Web Editor: Mo Hong'e

A number of recent cases of violence against medical staff have underscored this long-standing problem as authorities struggle to prevent tensions between patients and doctors.

On Wednesday, a doctor at Chaozhou Central Hospital in south China's Guangdong province was forced into a public parade by the relatives of a patient whose life he failed to save.

There has been a slew of similar headline-making incidents in which patients threaten, humiliate or harm doctors.

Earlier this month, a couple who were both government officials were punished for beating and paralysing a nurse at the Nanjing Stomatological Hospital in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province.

In February, a doctor from northeast China's Heilongjiang Province was beaten to death by a patient with a blunt bar over unsatisfactory treatment.


Conflicts between patients and medical staff have become so intense that measures must be taken to protect doctors and nurses, said Zheng Shan, who is a doctor at a Shanghai-based hospital.

Zheng's view is echoed by Zhou Yue, who works as a nurse in Nanjing.

"Some of us are considering quitting the job, as working in hospitals has become a high-risk profession these days," Zhou said.

While doctors are fretting over their troubled relationship with patients, the latter have long complained about the unpleasant experience of seeing doctors.

Chen Yu, who was standing in a long line to see a doctor in the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital, said that patients like him usually have to queue for hours before having a consultation that lasts "no more than three minutes."

Sometimes they have to "beg" doctors to accept their gift money so as to secure proper treatment, complained another patient queuing in the same line as Chen.

The mounting dissatisfaction has fueled surging resentment in both doctors and the sick. According to official statistics, about 70,000 medical disputes were reported nationwide in 2013.

Experts attribute the trend to a range of factors including a lack of communication, doctors' improper behavior, and an incomplete legal mechanism for solving the problems.

Guo Yufen, deputy director with the health bureau of northwest China's Gansu Province, said that one of underlying reasons is uneven distribution of medical resources.

Patients flood into big hospitals where quality medical equipment and good doctors converge, which inevitably slashes consultation times and mars doctor-patient communication, creating problem-prone medical relationships, said Guo.

Adding to mounting disputes is the immoral behavior of some doctors, who are unabashed about reaping benefits from patients, according to Xie Zilong, managing director of LBX Pharmacy, a chain drug store in China.

"Some doctors exaggerate patients' illnesses so that they could prescribe medicine indiscriminately, or recommend excessive physical checks, which is why patients chafe at them," Guo said.

Another problem is the costliness and time taken by the legal procedures for solving such disputes, which can last for months or even years, said Shao Xiaoying, a professor with Fudan University.

As urgency for change mounts, authorities at various levels are taking pains to implement measures that they hope can assuage public ire.

In January, the Zhejiang Provincial Higher People's Court in the eastern Zhejiang Province issued a regulation which requires hospitals to clamp down on people who disrupt order in medical institutions.

In February, the government of the northeastern city of Harbin announced a similar crackdown, while the local public health department vowed to better supervise medical institutions and staff.

Meanwhile, the National Health and Family Planning Commission released a circular on Feb. 20 that bans doctors of second-class public hospitals and above from taking "red envelopes," or gift money from patients starting from May 1, mandating what was once a moral issue.

Gao Chunfang, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said that China should ramp up the role of law in preventing medical disputes from happening.

A specific regulation to maintain order in medical institutions should be issued, and anyone who disrupts order there should be punished by law, Gao said, adding that government bodies should make joint efforts in handling medical disputes.

Authoritative institutions should be established to evaluate what's behind the disputes, while specialist courts need to be set up to handle such disputes to ensure of justice, according to Gao.

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