Medical malpractice causes enough confusion for doctors, lawyers and patients when it occurs locally. However, when brought into the larger sense of international travel, it can be even more difficult to understand and manage. There are no universal laws that regulate how individual countries handle medical malpractice. Within the realm of medical tourism itself, there is no regulating body to which patients with medical malpractice concerns can report to.
Without regulations and standardizations, medical tourism has the potential to be a hub of medical malpractices in which unqualified healthcare professionals treat naïve patients. This is why the concept of medical malpractice is so important to address and discuss for individuals involved in the medical tourism industry. This article will try to tackle the concept of medical malpractice in the realm of medical tourism so that both healthcare professionals and consumers are aware of the consequences.
Let’s discuss what medical malpractice is in the first place: Medical malpractice is the act of professional “wrong-doing” by a healthcare or medical professional catering to the needs of a patient. Malpractice occurs through negligence by act or omission where medical providers stray from the accepted medical practices within their profession that could potentially result in harm or fatalities to the patient. Healthcare professionals have a responsibility to treat patients to the best of their ability, so when a physician or another medical professional deviates away from standard medical procedures (even in the form of unintentional medical errors), they have to be accountable to their patient and for their mistake.
ETHICS AND LEGALITIES
Medical malpractice is often viewed through two sides of a spectrum—an ethical aspect and/or a legal aspect. Any act of wrong-doing in which the results of the malpractice have a negative impact on a person’s life, community or country could be considered unethical, regardless of whether or not it meets a patient’s expectations. Malpractice and the violation of ethics are more severe when the action is performed intentionally and with the understanding that such practices could be harmful.
Intentional acts of medical malpractice all fall under the sphere of unethical practices. The justice system of certain countries has placed great emphasis on legal consequences when an act of medical negligence has occurred. Cases such as these have initiated the large legal response we see today into the realm of medical malpractice. Patients have decided they want some sort of retribution when a medical error occurs, and this is often tied to the litigious aspect of it. This has resulted in patients having the ability to file a medical malpractice claim and sue their healthcare professional when they feel they have been wronged.
Nowadays, physicians practicing in countries with stringent medical malpractice regulations can get sued over any case of medical malpractice (intentional or not) so much so to the detriment of their career. Some countries, like the United States, take the issue of medical malpractice very seriously, causing doctors to purchase malpractice insurance in order to protect themselves (one of the reasons for the high cost of healthcare in the U.S.).
However, some medical tourism destinations might not have such strict laws, creating a disparity in legal regulations for, let’s say, an American traveling to prime spots like India or Thailand.
EXAMPLES OF MEDICAL MALPRACTICE WITHIN MEDICAL TOURISM
The risk of medical malpractice occurring within medical tourism is very high, especially because patients are traveling outside their comfort zones and away from the legal and ethical systems they are used to. Physicians can convince foreign patients to let them perform unethical procedures and can also refuse to grant them legal recourse in the case of a medical error. The numbers, cases and examples of medical malpractice are endless and are happening on a daily basis. Here are a few common examples of medical malpractice that have been highlighted or reported.
Physicians practicing outside their country
Since there are no universal laws or standards in place dictating medical malpractice, physicians can travel outside their country and consult or even treat foreign patients in a region where they are not licensed to practice. This could be detrimental for patient safety and for the reputation of medical tourism.
Lack of transparency of foreign physicians
Since the majority of communication between a patient and physician during medical tourism occurs when both parties are in different countries, there is a great potential for physicians to be unethical. Prior to a patient flying in for treatment, the patient could receive a lot of false information about the procedure in order to lure them into travelling. This is due to a lack of transparency and additionally a lack of regulation. These two issues combined are a great hurdle for medical tourism to overcome in the near future.
Lack of legal recourse for the patient
If a medical error has been made or an act of negligence has occurred in the form of medical malpractice, a patient has the right to duly receive retribution. This retribution usually comes in the form of a monetary reward (where the patient sues the healthcare provider) or by fixing the medical error made. However, when it comes to medical tourism, the variations in the legal systems of different countries could prevent a patient from receiving any legal recourse.
There are several examples of how foreign physicians can utilize unethical practices with foreign patients. These include: charging higher prices to international patients as compared to locals, covering hospital documents in the local language and refusing to provide translator services, misuse of medical technology (via using technological means to predict or even influence the characteristics of the foetus or through unethical organ transplant procedures) and not providing the patient with enough pre- and post-operative information. All these unethical cases also fall into the category of medical malpractice; however, depending on the legal system of the medical tourism destination they might or might not have a legal affiliation.
The concept of medical tourism might have been in practice for centuries, but due to the recent widespread globalization, the medical tourism industry has been burgeoning and is set to continue growing well into the future. But there are several hurdles that we still have to face in order to keep the reputation of medical tourism strong. One of the greatest issues is the lack of legal regulation for cases of medical malpractice. The fact that no standards are in place or no regulation body has been created in order to address the very relevant issue of medical malpractice is weakening the industry and all it has to offer.
Patients should have a right to retribution if negligence has been done upon them and doctors need to take responsibility for their actions. Additionally, as individuals invest in the medical tourism industry, we need to work together to ensure that patients have the safest medical journey possible and that they have an outlet to voice their cases when medical negligence occurs. Finally, we need to create a sound support system for practitioners to protect themselves in the case of unfortunate results or complications that have occurred because of unintentional practice.
About the Author
Dr. Prem Jagyasi is a Chartered Marketing, Management & Health Tourism Consultant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Dr Prem Jagyasi is world renowned Health Tourism / Medical Tourism Consultant. He provides exceptional, extensive and high-end consultancy services to Healthcare Organizations, Medical Travel Facilitators, Governments and Semi- Government Authorities. He is serving Medical Tourism Association (A Non-Profit Organization) as a Chief Strategic Officer, and is responsible to develop, execute and monitor marketing, brand and communication strategies. He is also closely involved with MTA team to create, protect & foster industry standards, quality of care projects & strategic developments. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org web: www.drprem.com