The latter part of Mark Twain’s quotation, ‘if you don’t read the newspaper,you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed’ isreminiscent of the role played by our media in shaping the current image ofPakistani doctors.

Without fully understanding the realities and limitations of our healthcare system and those working in it, both digital and print media has painted a picture of the doctors’ community using colors of misinformation and hearsay. News headlines such as ‘a patient died due to carelessness of doctors’ has given birth to the now common perception among the public that doctors are merciless money-oriented butchers.

A doctor can be careless for two reasons. First when they are forced to work long hours which not only affects their own health but also compromises patient care. In tertiary care hospitals across Pakistan, medical practitioners including house officers, medical officers and resident physicians have to work between 80-90 hours a week. This causes exhaustion and compromises the judgement and ability of doctors to render treatment. When a fatigued doctor makes a mistake, it leads to the impression that doctors are willfully being negligent.

In western countries where provision of healthcare is far better than ours, working hours of physicians are limited for the safety of patients. In the United Kingdom, junior doctors on an average work 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. The longest shift is of 12 hours and comes with extra pay and compensatory off the next day. There are two days off in a week and those made to work on weekends are given replacement holidays in the same week. The American health care chassis follows similar guidelines.

A recent study revealed that physicians who work more than 24 hours are 73 percent more at risk of protraction needle-stick injuries and are 2.3 times more likely to get involved in car accidents. The study also states that 24 hours without sleep slows down reaction time of doctors and is similar to the state of alcohol intoxication.

The second reason attributed to the carelessness of doctors is the tremendous patient load. According to official reports, in Pakistan only one doctor is available for every 6,325 people. This problem is further compounded by poor provision of health in basic health units, rural health centers and tehsil headquarters which form the primary and secondary healthcare levels. Patients with minor complaints, who unnecessarily burden outpatient and emergency departments of tertiary hospitals, should be treated and filtered at the primary and secondary level in order to reduce patient load in public and private hospitals.

Moreover, Pakistani doctors are often made scapegoats by the patient’s attendants who bring their patients to hospitals after the disease has become incurable. Despite rendering all possible efforts, the attendants of the departed patient hold on-duty doctors accountable and demand justice while all this is reported on print and electronic media as negligence of doctors.

The negative journalism which has targeted the medical fraternity has led us to the point where patients and their attendants enter hospitals with an aggressive mindset towards doctors. They have made a habit of hurling abuses and knocking doctors out whenever things are not going according to their wish. The doctor-patient relationship is a sensitive one and active media, which has the power of making a mole-hill look like a mountain and vice versa, should understand the implications of their reporting and should exercise their influence with responsibility so that a much needed bridge is created between the public and those working within hospitals.