New Delhi, June 2: A television programme hosted by actor Aamir Khan has turned the spotlight on medical misdemeanours in India, angering sections of doctors, but many in the medical profession say the episode merely laid bare widely known practices.
Doctors invited by Aamir to an episode of Satyamev Jayate telecast on multiple channels last week spoke of doctors taking payments, or "cuts", from fellow medics for referring patients to specialists or to testing laboratories, and from drug companies for prescribing medicines.
Aamir also invited members of the public who appear to have been victims of doctors who exaggerated their illnesses or misled them for personal gain ' one man claimed his wife had died after doctors tried to give her a kidney transplant without a genuinely informed consent from him.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) today demanded an apology from Aamir, accusing him of having defamed the medical profession in the May 27 episode, and warned him of legal action if he did not do so.
"Aamir Khan should apologise for having defamed and given one side of the story on the medical profession. If he does not, we are contemplating legal action for defaming as well as demoralising the medical profession in his TV show," IMA secretary-general D.R. Rai said today.
"Every profession has its dark horse ' but it can safely be claimed that white sheep always outnumber the black ones in every field," Rai said. He said that it was wrong on the part of Aamir to "put the rotten eggs over the good ones".
But many doctors say the episode highlighted something their fellow medics want hidden.
"The practices of cuts and payments are well known within the medical community, but not always known to patients or the general public," said Amar Jesani, a physician and executive director of the Centre for Ethics and Rights, who has been tracking medical ethics for more than two decades. "There are just too many black sheep ' it's something to be worried about," Jesani said.
Several doctors are questioning the credentials of the IMA to speak on behalf of the medical profession. They point out that the all-India IMA membership is about 200,000, less than one-third of India's estimated 600,000 practitioners of modern medicine.
"We should really be asking, 'who is the IMA to question Aamir?'" said Chandra Gulhati, a physician and the editor of the Monthly Index of Medical Specialities, India, an independent journal of drugs, who had appeared in the episode and mentioned medical corruption.
Two years ago, the Medical Council of India's ethics panel had said a former president and former secretary-general of the IMA who had authorised pacts to endorse specific brands of oats, juice and a mosquito repellent should be delicensed for six months.
India's code of medical ethics prohibits doctors from endorsing any products.
A study by Indian doctors published in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics has shown that "unethical and illegal" drug promotional practices have become "institutionalised" by drug companies, chemists and doctors at the cost of the consumer.
In one example, the study, which relied on interviews with doctors, detected printed handouts from drug manufacturers to doctors assigning targets and offering incentives to meet them.
"They were offered a cellphone handset for prescribing 1,000 tablets, an air-conditioner for prescribing 5,000 tablets and a motorcycle after 10,000 tablets were prescribed," Nobhojit Roy and his co-authors reported in their study published five years ago.
Gulhati said a report released last month by Parliament had indicted doctors for unethical collusion with drug companies. "The report was far more damning than the programme. Is the IMA planning to take action against Parliament also?" he asked.
Rai complained about Aamir's programme at a media conference also attended by doctors who claimed they were representing 21 institutions.
Among those present were V.K. Narang, finance secretary, IMA; Harish Gupta, president of Delhi Medical Association; K.K. Aggarwal, president, Heart Care Foundation of India; Harsh Mahajan of the Mahajan Imaging Centre; and Ashok Grover, chairman of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.