Mar 10, 2014 06:06 PM

Expert Blames Unrealistic Expectations, Poor Policing for Attacks on Doctors

(Beijing) – The public's unrealistic expectations of hospitals and a reluctance of police to intervene in disputes are behind the spate of attacks on medical professionals, a professor says.

Patient-doctor conflicts frequently make headlines in China. On March 5, a group of about 100 people forced a sobbing doctor at Chaozhou Central Hospital, in the southern province of Guangdong, to march around carrying a sign reading: "This doctor killed a patient." The group of people was called together by the relatives of a patient who died in the hospital a day earlier.

Violence – sometimes deadly – and threats have shaken professionals in the nation's hospitals. The Ministry of Health says more than 70 percent of all hospitals reported incidents involving verbal threats or physical attacks against professional employees in recent years.

A day before the incident at Chaozhou Central Hospital, a photo of an emergency room doctor holding a riot shield during an admission interview went viral on social media. Shanghai Changzheng Hospital, where the photo was taken, later said it was staged by staff as a joke.

Wang Yifang, a professor at Peking University Health Science Center, said the photo symbolizes the lack of trust between doctors and patients. Many people think "hospitals bear all the responsibility" should treatment fail, Wang said, therefore they are either entitled to compensation or damage the hospital. Violence against medical workers is such thinking in the extreme, he said. 

"Many believe if hospitals fail to cure patients, or provide the best treatment possible, they are in fact intentionally hurting patients," Wang said. "This is a type of logical fallacy that must be avoided to prevent similar incidents from happening."

The police are also to blame, Wang said. Law enforcement sometimes reasons that hospitals bear responsibility in patient-doctor disputes, and letting angry patients or their relatives blow off some steam is the best course.

However, this thinking fails to recognize that violence against medical staff is a challenge to the authority of the law and a disruption to public order that can prevent others from getting medical attention, Wang said.

The government should establish a mechanism for handling patient-doctor disputes, Wang said, but also make sure police hold people who attack medical professionals responsible.

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