A new self regulatory code of conduct for doctors and hospitals, in the process of being formulated, could hold investors and members on the boards of medical establishments responsible for unethical practices in the establishment such as giving cuts to doctors and diagnostic facilities or taking bribes from pharmaceutical companies.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Association of Hospital Providers of India (AHPI) have constituted a joint committee to formulate the code.
The effort to draw up a code is the initiative of the newly-elected office bearers of the IMA, who will be taking over on December 28. With the health ministry looking into the issue of corruption in healthcare, the IMA and AHPI decided that before the government comes out with a law to regulate the health sector, they should come out with a code for their members to follow.
“Later, the government can adopt this code into the regulatory law it drafts and notify it,” said Dr K K Aggarwal, who will be taking over as the general secretary of the IMA in December along with the new president Dr Marthanda Pillai.
“The Medical Council of India is in the process of amending its code of medical ethics. I am a member of the ethics committee. The IMA-AHPI five-member joint committee will be interpreting the MCI’s rules to make it clear for physicians and to document what is not unethical. When a doctor is in trouble he/she approaches the IMA for help, but if the doctor has violated the code, the IMA will not support the person. Often, the entire community of doctors is maligned because of a few black sheep. We will be defining what we mean by ‘black sheep’,” explained Dr Aggarwal.
He added that the code would be applicable in 12,000 hospitals in the country, which are members of AHPI. Dr Aggarwal has been trying to get NATHEALTH, the association of mostly corporate hospitals including the Max, Apollo and Fortis groups, to join the effort.
“Currently, there is no code of conduct for hospitals as MCI does not cover hospitals directly, only indirectly through the doctors working there. So, if a corporate hospital forces a doctor to do some unethical work and the doctor does so because he/she has no option, what can be done? Who can the doctor complain to? IMA alone cannot do it as it only deals with doctors and so it has to rope in a body that controls hospitals. Just as the courts had held the directors of AMRI hospital (in Kolkata) responsible for the fire that had broken out, investors and directors of hospitals ought to be held responsible for unethical practices in the hospital,” said Dr Aggarwal.
The joint committee is expected to finish drafting the code within the next two months. It will also deal with issues related to digital and tele healthcare, such as email or phone consultations, video conferencing, whether doctors having their own website amounts to advertising and so on.