Display list of approved doctors

DUrING the first half of January, the Delhi Medical Council issued advertisements warning consumers not to fall prey to quacks. Unfortunately, the ads failed to give the most crucial information to the public on how to identify a quack, or how to make sure that the allopathic doctor that they are consulting is really qualified (vis-`E0-vis the relevant medical education and registration) to practice in that system of medicine, and that he or she is not making a false claim about the educational qualifications or registration.

In fact there is an urgent need for all state authorities that register medical practitioners (including those practicing Indian systems or alternative systems) to ensure that the list of such registered doctors is regularly updated and made easily available in local languages at every village post office (through the Internet). Education and awareness about the availability of such lists will also go a long way in protecting the interests of patients and ensuring that they do not become victims of false claims.

An order of the apex court delivered on January 13 illustrates how in the absence of such information, people can fall prey to false claims and misrepresentation.

In this case, on noticing that his eight-year-old-son was getting two new teeth behind the existing teeth in the lower jaw, Vijay Kumar Srivastava took the child to Kumar Dental Health Care Centre in Goplaganj, Bihar, in the belief that "Dr Kumar, BDS" was a dentist with a BDS degree and registered with the Dental Council. Kumars letterhead, for example, said: " Dr M. Kumar, BDS. Registration No 145/99."

Before you consult a doctor, make sure he holds the relevant degree and registration certificate to practice
Before you consult a doctor, make sure he holds the relevant degree and registration certificate to practice Thinkstockphotos/Getty Images

Kumar examined the child and advised extraction of the two old teeth. However, after the extraction was complete, the father noticed to his utter shock and dismay that all the four teeth had been removed. On his complaint, Kumar apparently admitted that it was a mistake, but assured the parent that two new teeth would come up within three weeks. However, that did not happen, and the child had lost two teeth permanently.

Highly aggrieved, Srivastava filed a case before the district consumer disputes redressal forum in Gopalganj. While the forum dismissed it, saying that the complainant had not produced adequate evidence to prove his allegation in the form of X-rays or expert witnesses, the state commission held Kumar guilty of misrepresentation and, thereby, an unfair trade practice. The doctor, the commission found, had misrepresented his qualification and given an impression that he had a degree in the allopathic system of medicine, while what he had was a degree in alternative system. The commission, therefore, asked him to pay the complainant Rs 50,000 as compensation and Rs 5000 as costs.

In reply to a revision petition filed by Kumar, the national commission upheld the view of the state commission. It pointed out that Kumar had told the commission that he did not have a BDS degree from a college imparting allopathic system of medicine, but a BDS in alternative system. Said the commission: " According to this certificate, having passed the relevant examination in 1998, the revision petitioner is entitled to use the designation B.D.S. (Alt.) for the development of alternative medical system. "Thus, going by his own admission and record of the case, the revision petitioner can call himself B.D.S (Alt.) only and not B.D.S.

Through the Department of Ayush, the government has recognised the importance of Indian systems of medicine such as ayurveda, sidha, unani, yoga and naturopathy and is promoting standardisation of education, research and practice in these systems, and also integration of these systems in the national healthcare system. So much so that today, at many hospitals and clinics, consumers have a choice. However, in order to exercise that choice, consumers must know the system of medicine being practiced by a doctor and whether that person holds the relevant degree and registration to practice that system. There should be no misrepresentation of facts.