Mon, 26 May 2003

`Patient protection against malpractice weak'

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Kartika, 25, a new mother, said he was advised to deliver her son by caesarean section, which she eventually agreed to.

"My obstetrician told me I had to do it because my baby would be to large to deliver naturally," she said.

Kartika said her son only weighed 2.3 kilograms at birth, and she continues to suffer postsurgical pain. Another obstetrician she consulted said she could have delivered her baby naturally.

Kartika is just one example of how patients are not well protected against medical malpractice.

Budi Sampurno, an expert on medical law, said medical malpractice included misdiagnoses, mistreatment, trouble under anesthesia, postsurgical complications and visible negligence.

In a speech on Saturday at the Indo Surgitex 2003, Budi said that ethically surgeons should follow the principle of non maleficence primum non nocere, or surgery should only take place if non-surgical solutions are impossible.

"Surgery is invasive and requires a certain competency on the part of the patient to make the decision and to understand the signed consent form.

"The aim of signing a consent form is to make sure that the patient really understands the consequences and risks of undergoing surgery, not just to deliver information and leave the patient with questions," Budi said.

Indonesia has yet to pass a law regulating the medical profession. As a result, doctors accused of malpractice can only be charged under the Criminal Code.

As an example of how weak the protection of patients' rights is, Budi pointed to a court case in Jakarta that eventually was won by the hospital named in the suit.

Budi said if malpractice occurs during surgery in a hospital, the surgeon should not be the only party held responsible.

"This should be the responsibility of the hospital management as the malpractice occurs in the hospital as an institution," he said.