It has been 25 years since Santo Garcia has fallen victim to a misdiagnosis that haunted him his entire life. A misdiagnosis that happened when he was 18 months old had left him with a kidney disorder. A simple mistake by seasoned professionals gave him a lifelong ailment that cannot be reversed.
“I was only a baby when a simple TB diagnosis was mistaken for meningitis. Unable to handle the drug, my kidneys developed a syndrome. I have been in and out of hospitals ever since,” Santo told The Reporter, emphasizing on how the doctors admitted to their mistake but could not do any further damage control.
Many patients like him face life threatening circumstances due to doctor’s medical error or malpractices. A medical error can be an unintended act (either of omission or commission) or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, a failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution), the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning), or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient.
Doctors are amongst the most trusted people in the society to provide a safe and intricate service. But day in and day out, more and more patients are falling victims to malpractices and errors committed by healthcare workers. To make matters worse, these victims get little to no compensation for the ill-treatment.
Doctors and patients are not generally seen as adversaries, and trust links both. But with commercialization, this relationship did not retain the age-old sanctity, which is a matter of great concern to the profession. The changing doctor-patient relationship and commercialization of modern medical practice has affected the practice of medicine. These days, it is customary to see a patient as a plaintiff and a health professional as a defendant in several civil lawsuits.
The lack of equipment’s and proper facilities in the country has had doctors frustrated for a long time now, especially in rural parts of the country, where proper diagnosis tools are absent and mistakes are not uncommon.
“Operating in remote areas is really difficult and we make-due with the bare minimum on offer. Even in those dire circumstances, we are being held responsible for any avoidable mistakes,” said Bezawit Teffera (MD), looking back at her internship days, serving in remote areas.
In a systemic analysis published by multiple healthcare professionals in 2020 titled: Medication errors in Ethiopia, it noted that malpractices even extend to wrong prescriptions of drugs to patients. It also said medication errors were very common in Ethiopian hospitals, with at least one out of two medications wrongly prescribed and administered.
The mistreated families of patients and patients themselves avoid bringing their complaints to the court of law due to the low rate of acceptability of their complaints.
“My best friend was misdiagnosed while he had evident symptoms. After six months of improper diagnosis, he ended up back in the hospital, but by the time he did, it was already too late,” said Frehiwot Teffera.
“Having finally gotten the right diagnosis of hypernatremia, there was little to nothing the doctors could do at that point, and he tragically passed at a young age of 26,” added Frehiwot, explaining how none of the family members pursued a lawsuit against the hospital because what was done was done and an unintentional mistake is not a cause for ruining someone’s life.
A study published titled “Surgical and medical error claims in Ethiopia,” showed how cases submitted to the Federal Health Professionals Ethics Committee are more often than not labeled as “patient’s dissatisfaction to services” rather than “doctor’s misconduct.”
Out of the 127 cases the committee looked into, only 21.6 percent of the claims were regarded as having an actual ethical breach or medical error. The major issues identified were lack of competence, practicing beyond professional scope, practicing beyond the standard of the health facility, inappropriate sexual advances and physical examination, and poor recording/documenting of patient information.
As “To err is human” puts it, humans make mistakes but the problem is not that there are bad people in healthcare rather it is good people are working in bad systems that need to be made safer.
Ethiopia’s healthcare system is growing, making it prone to errors that could occur due to lack of facilities and quality of care. However, patients and families of patients deserve to get services that are their money’s worth.
Out of the 21.6 percent of cases that have an actual ethical breach, 59 percent originated from private healthcare institutions; the same establishments that chose to make healthcare a business and every patient a source of money, with a little attention to the safety of the public.