Arrogant doctors are guilty of collective misconduct

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2000, 12:00am

The article headlined, 'Off by a heartbeat', on medical misdiagnosis (South China Morning Post, October 14), reported that the Medical Council is now 'trying to educate the public' by issuing a booklet which includes the statement that 'Medicine is not an exact science . . . '.

So, now the council is blaming the ignorance of the awakening general public when, for years, it is the doctors who have continually promulgated the myth that what they do is scientific. By way of this myth, they have created a unique place in society for themselves by domination of legislation and insurance cover and by denigrating other healers such as chiropractors, traditional Chinese medicine and naturopaths as being 'unscientific'.

In the last 10 years, the need for quality assurance in industry has become mandatory for anyone wishing to do business in the world, but, as yet, we have no benchmarks for quality of medical performance nor statistics to measure them.

No form of medicine has the objective rigours of the scientific method and failure to diagnose is not misconduct. Rather, misconduct is to be found in the profession as a whole which has arrogated itself to its present position of dominance and public trust. However, there are plenty of things which the Medical Council does not do much about such as dangerous prescription of antibiotics for viral infections and the non-washing of hands between patients. Or am I ignorant, like the rest of the public, in thinking that these are misconduct? Some statistics, relating to the US, given by Professor Melvyn Werbach, a faculty member of the School of Medicine at UCLA, are interesting:

Based on autopsy findings, errors in diagnosis are now just as prevalent as in the past (around 50 per cent in many studies), despite enormous technological improvements.

Of all surgeries, 12 per cent are unnecessary, with Caesarean section being the worst offender, amounting to as much as 23 per cent of all deliveries in the US.

Errors in medication supplied in hospital are once every 6.5 administrations (either in dosage or medication given).

Another interesting statistic is the likelihood of contracting a disease in hospital which ranges, in various places, between 10 per cent and 30 per cent. It is understood to stand at about 15 per cent in Hong Kong, but, of course, such incidents do not get much publicity.

No, misdiagnosis is certainly not misconduct, it is an inevitable part of a system which has, for too long, promulgated a myth of its supremacy and covered up its failings. Is it possible that the realisation, by the Medical Council, that Western medicine is not an exact science may start an era of humility in which doctors embrace and respect all other forms of healing for the wider good?