Medicine is a subject which needs a professional aspect to its understanding. A medical practitioner or professional is a person who not only learns the medical fundamentals but also provides healthcare services. His expertise is utilized in curing, relieving a person from his ailments. The medical practitioner is the pillar of the society without whom the society might collapse or go haywire. They include doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, other caregivers, etc. It is a profession considered sacred by the people. A doctor is given the status of the almighty who saves the lives of people, relieves them from a prolonged illness. It is a prestigious profession which comes with respect, wealth, and abundance of hard work.
The greatness of this profession comes with an adequate number of challenges. Other than the stress of long working hours, playing a critical role in providing quality healthcare services, etc. they face legal actions at times. The practitioners come across strict legal consequences during their practice and need protection from the same. In addition, doctors can be free from allegations of medical malpractice when providing health services in accordance with professional standards and operational procedures. In the same manner protection is given to the patients under medical law. Protection from any medical malpractice, the rights of patients on confidentiality and other torts related to medical treatment are covered under medical law.
Development in the field of medicine requires a boost in the legal branch known as medical law. Medical law can be defined as the branch of law which concerns the prerogatives and responsibilities of medical professionals and the rights of patients. It should not be confused with medical jurisprudence, which is a branch of medicine, rather than a branch of law. It has primarily three branches such as criminal law, negligence, and confidentiality. Negligence is the carelessness or negligent treatment given to the patient by the medical practitioner. Every medical practitioner has a duty and responsibility towards its patients. When there is a breach in the duty of care it amounts to the patient’s right to bring an action against negligence. The medical professional has duties such as an obligation towards the sick, he must maintain patience, delicacy and secrecy. Prognosis is a concept wherein it is an essential duty of the practitioner to never exaggerate or minimize the patient’s condition or ailment. The conversation between the patient and the doctor during consultation or treatment is called the confidentiality which should be maintained. A healthcare practitioner can be prosecuted for criminal acts such as battery, assault, fraud, and abuse.
Medical law and ethics are complementary to each other as any breach of ethics and law is unacceptable in medical profession. The concept of ‘volenti non fit injuria’ comes in play as it is a defence taken in tort. When a patient is well informed about a possible danger and there is evidence consenting for such a treatment by him, this defence is used. Medical law has gained recognition in recent times. It works as a boon to the over increasing legal aspects in this profession. It proves to be helpful for the people acquiring healthcare services as well as for those giving them. The medical professional must not abuse his professional position. Failure to take the consent of the patient may result in legal consequences against him. The Indian Medical Council Regulations,2002 has laid down the regulations regarding duties and responsibilities towards patients. There must not be a violation of the same and of laws thereto. The consequence of medical negligence would be a liability under the Consumer Protection Act. The tort law begins where the Consumer Protection Act ends to protect the rights of the patients.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has released a ‘Charter of Patient’s Rights’ prepared by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that includes all the lawful rights according to the Constitution of India. Hence it is well settled that the patient’s can voice their rights if an infringement takes place. The practitioners are under an obligation to take an adequate responsibility while carrying out their duties. The legal consequences can go to an extent where the name of the medical practitioner may be removed from the register of the medical practitioners. The council may restrain the medical practitioner from performing the procedure or practice during the pendency of the complaint. The removal of the practitioner is widely published in Medical Associations or bodies.
Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha is a famous caselaw in the field of medical law. The case enumerates exemptions to doctors in case of medical negligence. This landmark decision brought in a significant interpretation of medical negligence liability, by subjecting the medical profession to the Consumer Protection Act. Patients’ rights were recognized through the conferring of consumer status, allowing them to file complaints in cases of deficiency in rendering medical services. However, this decision has received criticism from the community of medical practitioners for making the medical profession vulnerable to excessive suits, many of which are filed to harass doctors or to evade the payment of medical bills. While it is important to protect the integrity of this profession, the growing cases of medical negligence are a matter of concern. The interpretation of ‘service’ by the Supreme Court seeks to safeguards the interest and welfare of patients, which is paramount.
Medical negligence is the misconduct by medical practitioners or doctors by not providing enough care and taking proper safeguards or measures resulting in the breach of their duties harming the patients. It occurs because of improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment provided to the patients. Every medical professional or doctor has a duty of care towards their patients and when they commit a breach of this duty of care it causes injury to the patients and gives the patient’s right to bring an action against negligence. The act of medical negligence results in civil liability, criminal liability and disciplinary action.