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The Need for Universal Patient Rights in India

One of the biggest economies in the world is still struggling with the basics of healthcare. India, where the medical tourism sector is rapidly growing, has patients come in from all over the world yet lacks a universal policy on patient’s rights. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry released a draft of the Charter of Patient Rights collated by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Currently, some states adhere to the Clinical Establishments Act 2010 while others have their own unique legislation in place for the regulation of hospitals. The Charter of Patient Rights not only lists out the rights of every patient but also their responsibilities so that doctors can do their job. In addition to establishing the legislation, the charter also proposes setting up a grievance redressal mechanism where hospitals and doctors can be reported and held accountable should there be any violations.

The right to non-discrimination

Caste, creed, gender or even medical conditions cannot be the basis for discrimination when patients go looking for treatment. It’s not only the practitioners who have to adhere to this, but the hospital management is also responsible for seeing that these rights are being enforced. Historical examples of discrimination not only outline cases where medical care has been subpar or refused altogether, but where patients have been taken advantage of in order to have access to basic check-ups. Incidences vary in intensity, temporality and even dimensions.

The right to informed consent

While this should be a fundamental right, the confusion lies in situations where the patient is unconscious or under heavy medication. Because even with complete patient autonomy in some countries, they are still extremely hesitant to accept the concept of active euthanasia. And, that’s where ‘valid consent’ comes in. Most public hospitals in India make patients sign a consent form when they are admitted which basically states that the doctor can perform any treatment that he deems fit. But, the legality there is questionable. Currently, Indian courts follow the concept of ‘true consent’ where the process is biased towards the doctors. In comparison, western courts follow the ‘reasonable patient’ approach.

Right to transparency in rates

It was only last year in KPMG International’s report that India was second-to-last in terms of transparency in the healthcare system. The issue isn’t just that patients get overcharged for treatments, but at times they don’t even know what they’re paying for.

Right to safety and quality care

According to a study published in Health Affairs, even globally acclaimed hospitals in India have facilities that extremely low in quality. That being said, it’s not a challenge that’s unique to India. Developing and developed countries alike face quality issues due to geographic variations, medical errors etc. While quality care has normally been linked to infrastructural constraints, recent studies have shown that more than the availability of clinical establishments, the issue lies in the knowledge base of healthcare providers. While they may believe they are providing high-quality services, it’s their lack of capacity or knowledge that renders the sub-par quality of the health system.

The Draft of Patient’s Rights aims to address these problems at a fundamental level. The charter comes days ahead of the launch of India’s universal health scheme, Ayushman Bharat. Universal patient rights in cohesion with, what some call, Modicare are the push that the Indian healthcare sector needs to improve. That being said, as ambitious as these plans are, they will only be successful if implemented with greater clarity. – Business Insider India

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