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No beating about the bush.
“What is the right approach?” is a question Dr Nikhil Datar has battled with for years while discussing the healthcare system. In a long journey of 20 years as an obstetrician and gynaecologist working for various medical organisations (and obtaining a law degree in the process), he has observed the system from the inside. Small wonder that the anomaly of ‘medical errors’ has engaged his attention.
The Medical Scribe Journal defines medical errors as “preventable adverse effect of medical care whether or not evident or harmful to the patient.” It is the third leading cause of death in the USA. India is not far behind, in terms of damage, with approximately 5.2 million injuries each year caused by medical errors.
All this hit home with Dr Datar, when his mother had a personal brush with a medical mess-up. Some unexpected miscalculations during an appendectomy led her into a rare state of ‘awareness during anaesthesia’. This can be severely damaging to a patient’s mental state as the patient clearly remembers the intensity of the pain experienced during the surgery. The incident triggered a concern for ‘patient safety’ in Dr Datar’s mind and, in 2009, after being awarded the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship by the United Kingdom government, he established the Patient Safety Alliance (PSA).
PSA is an initiative of Atmonnati Charities, a charitable trust started by Dr Nikhil Datar and supported by Professor Rajan Madhok, Pramod Lele (CEO, Hinduja Hospital) and others.
PSA works to empower patients and reduce medical errors without taking an adversarial role towards doctors and healthcare professionals. Its objectives range from raising awareness about patient safety, creating a resource library for patients and professionals, to supporting healthcare professionals to promote safer care. The Alliance places emphasis on a systems-based approach to the problem rather than a personal one. “Systems errors cause good people to fail,” believes Dr Datar and wants to end such ‘deficiencies’.
PSA organises two types of educational programmes to spread awareness about medical errors. “Be Alert: Be Safe” is meant for consumers; and “Be Safe” is aimed at influencing healthcare professionals to be more cautious in their practice and procedures. Both sides need to make a conscious effort to reduce errors.
PSA also provides ‘Be Alert tools’ to help patients communicate their problems more effectively to doctors. The tool-kit contains a medical history card, a medication card and a checklist for patients who are scheduled to undergo surgery. There is also a patient communication card, which is actually helps doctors to work more effectively. Dr Datar believes that the knowledge gap in society is the Alliance’s biggest challenge.
Dr Datar’s idea of a ‘systematised mechanism’ for reducing errors includes a ‘Safe Prescription’ app which, he hopes, will become more popular in the healthcare system by providing automated support to both, doctors and patients. It include prescription, dispensing and administration mistakes and covers issues like bad handwriting and look-alike products. PSA also promotes prescription of generics rather than of brands.
Dr Datar is a strong advocate for change in the abortion laws. Over the years, he has supported several women in situations where defects, such as anencephaly (an underdeveloped brain), show up in tests only after the legal period for terminating a pregnancy has ended. In 2008, he filed a case in the Supreme Court for his patient Nikita Mehta who had crossed the 20-week mark for abortion as her unborn child suffered from a cardiac anomaly. Dr Datar and his colleagues have also worked on a modified draft of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. PSA’s core mandate and effort affects all of us. You can be a part of this process of creating a better healthcare system by helping to organise awareness workshops or making a financial contribution.
Patient Safety Alliance