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24 May 2024 : The Hindu Editorial Notes PDF

1. Should doctors be kept out of the Consumer Protection Act?

Topic: GS2 – Governance
GS2 –  Social Justice – Health
Context
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling exempting advocates from the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and its suggestion to re-examine the inclusion of medical professionals under the same Act, has sparked a debate on whether doctors should also be excluded from liability for service deficiencies under consumer protection laws.

 Background on Recent Supreme Court Ruling

  • Earlier this month, the Supreme Court revisited the applicability of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, to advocates, ruling that they cannot be held liable for service deficiencies. The Court hinted at re-examining its 1995 decision, which brought medical professionals under the Act’s purview.

Appropriateness of Patients Seeking Recourse

  • Some argue that patients resorting to the Consumer Protection Act is justifiable, providing them with an effective platform to address grievances.
  • The landmark case of Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha established that doctors fall within the Act’s scope as service providers, highlighting the contractual nature of the doctor-patient relationship.

Challenges and Opportunities with Consumer Protection Act

  • While the Act offers a pathway for patients to challenge adverse outcomes, it also poses challenges such as delays and frivolous litigation.
  • Patients resorting to legal action often exacerbate the ordeal for doctors and hospitals, impacting their morale and leading to increased procedural costs.
  • Despite these challenges, the Act provides essential remedies for affected consumers, ensuring they have a means to seek redressal for malpractice.

Alternative Mechanisms for Medical Complaints

  • Considering the drawbacks of consumer forums, an alternative mechanism could involve establishing an independent authority akin to ombudsmen in other sectors.
  • This intermediary body could offer an initial avenue for grievance redressal before resorting to consumer courts, potentially easing the burden on both patients and medical professionals.

Distinguishing Between Malpractice and Adverse Outcomes

  • It is crucial for grievance redressal forums to discern between explicit malpractice and adverse outcomes resulting from inherent risks associated with medical procedures.
  • Physicians can safeguard themselves against litigation by diligently delivering services, maintaining comprehensive patient records, obtaining proper consent, and effectively communicating risks to patients.

Need for Strong Regulatory Oversight

  • Emphasising the necessity for robust regulatory oversight in the medical sector, a proactive approach is advocated to monitor and regulate medical professionals’ activities effectively.
  • Additionally, medical indemnity insurance offers a layer of protection for doctors facing legal challenges, albeit navigating the legal process remains arduous.

Conclusion

  • The ongoing discourse surrounding the inclusion of doctors in the Consumer Protection Act underscores the need for a balanced approach that safeguards both patients’ rights and medical professionals’ interests.
  • While acknowledging the Act’s role in addressing malpractice, there’s a call for exploring alternative mechanisms and enhancing regulatory oversight to streamline grievance redressal and ensure equitable outcomes for all stakeholders.
Practice Question:  Discuss the implications of excluding medical professionals from the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, in the context of ensuring accountability and providing recourse to patients. (250 Words /15 marks)

 

 

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