Doctors shelling out more $$ for insurance

by Ariti Jankie South Bureau
For the past four weeks a Chaguanas mother of two has been counting down her last days on earth. After months of being treated for weakness and a persistent cold, she eventually discovered that she had cancer and that it had spread throughout her abdomen.

A member of the family blamed the doctor who treated her.

“If the cancer had been detected in time, she would have had a chance for survival,” he said.

Her husband said that it was a clear case of negligence by the physician and he fully intended to sue the doctor.

Patients are increasingly heading to the courts for redress against what they perceive as negligence on the part of doctors. As a result, doctors are now shelling out more money on insurance to safeguard themselves against an increasing number of lawsuits being filed against them for mis-diagnosis and malpractice.

Many of them now pay at least $40,000 a year on insurance policies, health practitioners said last week.

Secretary of the Medical Professionals’ Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Shehenaz Mohammed said the culture of seeking legal redress had become more pronounced in recent times and the increasing litigation was now pushing up the cost of insurance for doctors.

“There is now more litigation sentiment in the country,” she said as she noted, too, that patients were also “now being increasingly covered by insurance.”

Former secretary of the Medical Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Dev Ramoutar said doctors now had to be more careful as he agreed that doctors were putting out more money on insurance as a safeguard against lawsuits.

Commenting on the matter of there being more litigation sentiment by the public against doctors, attorney Anand Ramlogan said “I have hundreds of

cases lying in files at my office” but noted the lack of evidence to take to court.

“Real life testimony speaks of blatant negligence but we have no evidence to take to court,” Ramlogan said. He said it was “extremely difficult” to get expert medical evidence and testimony as the majority of doctors were unwilling to give evidence against a fellow doctor.

“Doctors have recognised that medical expert evidence is virtually impossible (in Trinidad and Tobago). Doctors work together in a close-knit community and even when they agree to testify, they charge an exorbitant fee to attend court,” Ramlogan said.

He said that of the hundreds of cases existing, only a few could get off the ground.

“What we need is urgent legislative reform,” he said.

Ramlogan called for a Medical Complaints Board comprising local and foreign doctors whose duty it would be to investigate and report on whether there was medical negligence in the cases that come under their review.

Meanwhile, Dr Ramoutar blamed the underlying loss of faith in local health care on the failure by patients to get tests and x-rays done to diagnose illnesses for treatment.

“It prevents doctors from providing effective health care,” he contended, noting, however, that most of the time, patients could not afford to pay for special medical tests.

“The escalating costs of tests have been hindering patients as well as doctors,” he said.

For patients like Caroline Verasammy and her mother Cherry-Ann Francis Lau, that’s no comfort.

Verasammy died on February 20 from a heart disease when she was being treated for pneumonia.

Her mother Cherry-Ann Francis-Lau of Beaucarro Road, Freeport said her daughter was asthmatic as a child. She said that the use of drugs for asthma caused Verasammy to develop an insulin dependency. As a result her daughter became a diabetic at the age of eight.

She said that her daughter struggled with health problems all her life. Then she became pregnant and delivered a baby, two years ago.

“All during that time, none of the doctors who treated her at several hospitals detected that she was suffering from a heart ailment,” said Francis-Lau. She said that Verasammy’s heart had become enlarged and the muscles around it had been strained for a long time before her daughter finally collapsed and died.
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