Recently, the Madras High Court directed a private infertility treatment hospital to pay 40 lakh rupees as compensation to a woman who was left permanently disabled after a botched up surgery.
In this context, let us understand what Indian law says about patient rights.
Who is a ‘patient’?
The term ‘patient’ covers people who receive healthcare services from doctors or medical professionals. In India, the Constitution of India, 1950, Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, Clinical Establishment(Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010 and Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 govern patient rights.
What are the patient rights available in India?
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the National Human Rights Commission released the Charter of Patient Rights. It lists 17 rights that are available to all patients in India. These include The Right to Information, Right to Records and Reports, Right to Informed Consent, among others. You can read about all of them here.
A patient’s right to informed consent
All procedures or treatments on a patient must be done only after they have given consent. This ‘consent’ has to be given:
- By a person who is conscious, of sound mind and above 12 years of age. You can read about a minor’s right to informed consent here.
- Free from any undue influence, threat, mistake.
- For a specific intervention. For instance, a treatment or procedure that requires written consent.
- By a person who understands the risks, benefits and alternate treatments available.
- In a language and manner understood by all parties involved.
In this case, the court held that the hospital authorities had failed to make the patient understand the risks of the surgery.
Failure to take consent
Doctors have to take consent for all medical procedures. Otherwise, this may result in disciplinary action as well as a case against them. If the doctor takes consent by causing fear or misconception, they are committing a crime under the law. However, if a doctor in good faith believes that the situation is too urgent to wait for the patient’s consent or it is not possible to obtain it, they may proceed with the emergency treatment. For example, an emergency abortion if the woman’s or fetus’s (unborn baby) life is in danger.
Failure to take consent can also result in disciplinary actions against the doctor. If you face such a situation, you can file a complaint.
How To File a Complaint Against the Doctor and the Hospital?
If you have a grievance against a doctor or the hospital administration regarding the quality of treatment provided or if they violated any of your rights as a patient, you can seek redressal for the same.
Hospital’s Grievance Office
This can be the first place you can approach when seeking redressal against professional misconduct by a doctor or hospital. A grievance redressal mechanism in a hospital works on resolving issues faced by patients. However, if the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction at this level, you can approach the other authorities given below.
National, State or District Level Council of Clinical Establishments
Clinical establishments are government or private places that provide medical services. If there are any shortcomings by clinical establishments in meeting standards of infrastructure or care, you can approach the officer or authority of a State or Union Territory to report issues. For example, you can complain if the medical equipment is not in good working condition or if they lose or misplace your medical records. You can find a list of officers in each State here.
State Medical Councils
You can approach State Medical Councils to seek disciplinary action against a doctor or hospital administration. To find a list of state councils, see here.
In case of criminal conduct by the doctor or hospital administration, you can file an FIR against them. Further, you can also call on 100 (police helpline) to register a complaint.
For more information on your rights as a patient, you can refer to our explainer here.
What did the court say in this case?
The court noted that the doctors conducted medical procedures without proper precautions, despite knowing about her medical condition and history. The Court further said that even though the woman had decided to undergo infertility treatment at the age of 43, it was the doctors’ duty to inform her of the risks involved and discourage her pregnancy plans. The hospital authorities’ negligence directly contributed to this mishap. The hospital authorities are liable to pay compensation of Rs 40 lakh with an annual interest of 12%.