Federal Court Ruling A Wake-Up Call For Private Hospitals — Dr Ananda Dharmalingam

The Federal Court ruling that held a private hospital liable for medical negligence is a wake-up call for all private hospitals to cater to safety. “It can’t be a free for all in an attempt to garner profitability over patient safety,” says a pediatrician.

Over the last few weeks, there have been several articles published in CodeBlue regarding the outcome of the Federal Court ruling and the impact on private health care.

These articles, including “‘Seismic Federal Court Ruling May Cut Specialised, Experimental Treatment Options: Galen Centre” and “APHM ‘Ripple Effects’ From Columbia Asia Medical Negligence Ruling May End Up Hurting Patients”, appear to foresee the collapse of the private health system.

The fact is that close to 40 years now, private hospitals have taken the lead in innovation and advancements in health care in Malaysia. When specialists in government hospitals are restricted within government facilities, they have ventured into private health care. And when treatment was unavailable in government facilities, patients also sought treatment in private health care settings.

I for one welcome the Federal Court ruling. This is a wake-up call for all private hospitals.

In recent times, there has been a paradigm shift for private hospitals towards adopting a business model. Hence profit is of paramount importance to them. Rather than catering to safety, they cater to census.

To achieve this, private hospitals have expanded exponentially and brought in more specialists, many of whom have only recently completed their specialist training. It is therefore not surprising that these individuals run into problems when they are short of real-world experience.

Before predicting doom and gloom for the private health care industry, hospitals must be aware of the calibre of the specialists that they intend to allow into their hospitals to practise.

It cannot be a free for all in an attempt to garner profitability over patient safety. There must be a robust peer-review system in place to vet candidates, which should be completely independent of the hospital. Unfortunately, many private hospitals are known to undermine these systems.

As for cost to the patient, specialist fees are regulated by the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998, irrespective if one is a fresh graduate or a senior specialist with 30 years’ experience.

The current Minister of Health has proposed a deregulation of specialist fees and to allow market forces to dictate fees. This would be most welcomed.

No doubt if hospitals are required to increase their indemnity insurance, costs of hospitalisation might increase, in which case, there may be an argument for the government to begin to regulate hospital charges.

Furthermore, unless insurance companies also play a role in regulating hospital charges, the ripple effect would spread to patients, forcing them to pay more for premiums.

Dr Ananda Dharmalingam is a consultant paediatrician and neonatologist.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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