Doctors Attacks Highlight Medical Crisis In China

On Behalf of | Aug 25, 2011 | Medical Malpractice

If you think that Medical Malpractice is a problem in Florida, wait until you see what is happening in China.

In 2006, the last year the Health Ministry published statistics on hospital violence, attacks by patients or their relatives injured more than 5,500 medical workers.

In June of 2010 a doctor was stabbed to death in Shandong Province by the son of a patient who had died of liver cancer. Three doctors were severely burned in Shanxi Province when a patient set fire to a hospital office. A pediatrician in Fujian Province was also injured after leaping out a fifth-floor window to escape angry relatives of a newborn who had died under his care.

In 2010 The New York Times published a story depicting the need for police officers in hospitals to keep disgruntled patients and their relatives from attacking the doctors.

Over the past year, families of deceased patients have forced doctors to don mourning clothes as a sign of atonement for poor care, and organized protests to bar hospital entrances. Four years ago, 2,000 people rioted at a hospital after reports that a 3-year-old was refused treatment because his grandfather could not pay $82 in upfront fees. The child died.

2 days ago friends and relatives of a patient who died on the operating table marched on Nanchang Hospital No. 1 with pitchforks and clubs. Hospital staff members learned that a mob of about 100 people was heading their way with crude weapons and took it upon themselves to mount a defense. Photographs and video posted on a local website showed men in white coats, apparently doctors, and T-shirted security guards brandishing what looked like oversize baseball bats. Although nobody was seriously injured in Tuesday’s melee, the incident highlights a greater problem. To that end, medical personnel advocates complain that the more violent incidents are staged by hired thugs, paid by families of the deceased in hopes of winning compensation from the hospitals. Sometimes the protesters are from the same village or are semi-professionals in causing trouble. The Chinese have even coined a word for the paid protesters: yinao, meaning “medical disturbance.” I know what you are thinking, and NO, they are not Medical Malpractice Lawyers.

“It has become a very sophisticated system for chasing profits. Whenever somebody dies in a hospital, the yinao will get in touch with the family and offer their services in exchange for 30% to 40%,” said Liu Di, who is setting up a social network for medical professionals. Again, I know what you are thinking, and NO, they are not Medical Malpractice Lawyers.

Zhang Yuanxin, who is a medical malpractice lawyer, said it was difficult to sue for medical malpractice, even in the most egregious cases, and that tempted people to take matters into their own hands.

“This is the direct result of the lack of rule of law and the lack of a well-established social welfare system,” Zhang said. “Conflicts like these are inevitable and there will be many more if people can’t solve their problems through the law.”

With overcrowded public hospitals, China has experienced a number of well-publicized scandals in which people were overcharged for unnecessary or dangerous treatments. In the 1990s, at a time when local governments were selling blood for profit, more than 1 million people contracted the AIDS virus through transfusions at public hospitals. Often victims in these cases have had little resource but to protest or petition — an archaic process that involves going to Beijing to file grievances with higher authorities.

Doctors and nurses say the strains in the relations between them and patients’ relatives are often the result of unrealistic expectations by poor families who, having traveled far and exhausted their savings on care, expect medical miracles.

Almost half the nation’s doctors have no better than a high school degree, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Many village doctors did not make it past junior high school.

Primary care is scarce, so public hospitals — notorious for excessive fees — are typically patients’ first stop in cities, even for minor ailments. One survey estimated that a fifth of hospital patients suffer from no more than a cold or flu. Chinese health experts estimate that a third to a half of patients are hospitalized for no good reason.

Once admitted, patients are at risk of needless surgery; for instance, one of every two Chinese newborns is delivered by Caesarean sections, a rate three times higher than health experts recommend.

Patients appear to be even more likely to get useless prescriptions. Drug sales are hospitals’ second biggest source of revenue, and many offer incentives that can lead doctors to over prescribe or link doctors’ salaries to the money they generate from prescriptions and costly diagnostic tests. Some pharmaceutical companies offer additional under-the-table inducements for prescribing drugs, doctors and experts say.

Doctors seem as unhappy as patients. They complain that they are underpaid, undervalued and mistrusted. One in four suffers from depression, and fewer than two of every three believe that their patients respect them, a survey by Peking University concluded in October.

In June, more than 100 doctors and nurses in Fujian Province staged their own sit-in after their hospital paid $31,000 to the family of a patient who died. The doctors were upset because after the patient died the relatives took a doctor hostage, setting off a bottle-throwing melee that injured five employees.

Like some other cities, Shenyang has been seeking ways to ward off disturbances, including setting up hospital mediation centers. Still, the city reported 152 “severe conflicts” between patients and doctors in 2009.

At Hospital No. 5, the memory of a January attack remains fresh. After a doctor referred a patient with a temperature to a fever clinic — standard practice in China — frustrated relatives beat the doctor and several nurses with a mop and sticks.

While we argue about the Florida Medical Malpractice Act and the limits on Pain and Suffering, it sure beats the alternative. That being said, we need to remain cognizant of the proposed changes that seek to further limit patients rights.

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.