Treat doc­tors fairly to curb med­i­cal graft

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

As­mall box of medicines to treat coryza costs 129 yuan ($18.6). If you think the price is not high, con­sider this: Of that amount, a medicine sales­per­son pays a kick­back of 45 yuan to the doc­tor so that he/she pre­scribes it to pa­tients.

This is part of the facts to emerge from an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by China Cen­tral TV jour­nal­ists in a rep­utable hos­pi­tal in Shang­hai. The jour­nal­ists stayed in the hos­pi­tal for days and also video-recorded how medicine sales­per­sons bribed doc­tors.

As soon as the news broke out, the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion said it would ask the lo­cal health author­i­ties to in­ves­ti­gate the case and take mea­sures to pre­vent the spread of bribery. Later, the Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion sus­pended the three doc­tors who were caught on cam­era tak­ing bribes, and said it will strengthen the su­per­vi­sion of doc­tors.

Strength­ened su­per­vi­sion is nec­es­sary, be­cause doc­tors have the ab­so­lute say in the treat­ment of dis­eases. If doc­tors use this power to treat dis­eases with­out su­per­vi­sion and if they pre­scribe medicines ac­cord­ing to their in­ter­ests, not the pa­tients’ needs, they will in­crease the mone­tary bur­den of pa­tients and harm their health.

Yet su­per­vi­sion alone is not enough. The av­er­age salary doc­tors get is less than what they de­serve given the time and ener- gy they put in to earn a med­i­cal de­gree, not to men­tion spe­cial­iza­tion in a field.

The pre­scrip­tion fee for public hos­pi­tals is strictly con­trolled: About 14 yuan for an ex­pe­ri­enced doc­tor in Bei­jing, just enough to buy a box of chew­ing gum. And since med­i­cal re­sources are rath- er rare, il­le­gal agen­cies make ap­point­ments with doc­tors to “re­sell” them for as high as 1,000 yuan per ap­point­ment. When doc­tors have to sell la­bor at an un­rea­son­ably low price and watch il­le­gal agen­cies mak­ing profit, why will they not try to in­crease their in­comes?

We are con­fi­dent that the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion will take ef­fec­tive mea­sures to curb cor­rup­tion in hos­pi­tals. But if the com­mis­sion only strength­ens su­per­vi­sion with­out pro­mot­ing med­i­cal re­form and rais­ing doc­tors’ salaries, we may face a short­age of good doc­tors as few would agree to do the risky, ex­haust­ing but poorly-pay­ing job.

In fact, we may be star­ing at such a sce­nario, as the min­i­mum cut-off score for ad­mis­sion to med­i­cal col­leges fell in 2015 and 2016 be­cause of drop­ping ap­pli­cant num­bers.

For­tu­nately, the coun­try’s top lead­er­ship has no­ticed this. A guide­line on med­i­cal re­form, which the State Coun­cil, or China’s Cabi­net, is­sued in March said the salaries of med­i­cal staff should be raised and the pi­o­neer­ing hos­pi­tals were al­ready work­ing on the new plan.

Hope­fully, the re­form will be ex­pe­dited and doc­tors will be treated more fairly.

The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. zhangzhoux­i­ang@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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