Should Medical Practice be shrouded in Secrecy?

I once visited a friend who greeted me with information about his 50 year old sister diagnosed with cancer. My Friend Niek, a Dutch tropical doctor, said, "I feel sad about my sister’s situation, however, my sister has accepted the news and is ready for anything including death". 

I did not know how to immediately respond to the news so I stood there just nodding at anything he said, till the subject was changed to a more lively discussion. I however, continued thinking about the information, I thought about instances where I have been sick and did not even know what was wrong with me. 

I remembered times when I have visited the hospital, been given medication but did not really know what I was being treated for. 

I also remembered a story I read in Dr Lawrence Tetteh’s book titled the “Miracle of Offences” where he said in praying for a person suffering from a particular illness, he mentioned the illness and the sick person immediately got up thanking God. 

He said the person’s thanksgiving was not for instant healing but he (the sick person) had been wondering what the problem was with him since the doctors have not said anything to him and they kept running lab test upon lab test. 

According to the story, the sick person, a believer in miracles, was thanking God because he wanted to be specific in his prayer for healing, so that if he knew he was suffering from cancer he would specifically pray to God for healing on cancer. 

These stories make me wonder why certain doctors in Ghana refuse to explain to a patient what he or she is suffering from and probably explain why people who prefer to go to a pastor or a fetish priest for healing instead of the hospital.

At least at the prayer camp or fetish priest's place, one is privileged to be told who is causing what and a superstitious society like ours really thrives on that. 

In the past, before the Ghana Health Service, insisted on running Malaria test before giving a prescription, all one needed to get the 4,4,2 prescription was to go to the hospital, report fever and headache and the feeling of hot or cold and one will be given the 4,4,2 Chloroquine drug. 

You take four the first day, four the second day and two the third day, if you react to the drug you are given an allergy drug to help you cope with it.

No wonder many people died needlessly from illnesses which they would have been cured if detected earlier, for example typhoid fever had similar symptoms as Malaria but one was likely to be treated for malaria instead of typhoid.   

In other cases, one would be considered the most annoying patient if one dared to go to a hospital and ask the doctor many questions. It looked like doctors were sacred and you dare not waste their time. 

Meanwhile the Ghana Health Service Patients Charter states among other things that a patient is entitled to full information on his or her condition and management and the possible risks involved except in emergency situations when the patient is unable and need for treatment is urgent. 

The patient is entitled to know the alternative treatment(s) and other health care providers within the service if these may contribute to improved outcomes. 

The patient has the right to know the identity of all caregivers and other persons who may handle him, including students, trainees and ancillary workers. A patient also has a right to consent or decline to participate in a proposed research study involving him or her after full explanation has been given. 

One is right to wonder if indeed such exist in Ghana. Well, these days some hospital staff are made to wear name tags so you could identify them, however, the majority of care givers would not bother to mention who they are and what they do. 

Most of the time, the health care providers may be doing some investigations on the patient and the patient does not know a hoot what they are about. It is not surprising that in Ghana, the average Ghanaian may not know his/her blood group, sickling status and the like.

Nevertheless, these things have been checked from infancy to adulthood but who cares explaining anything to a patient.

In fact one actually is considered annoying if you report to the hospital after 10 AM, even those at the record will, with a wild frown, ask why you are coming to the hospital that time. 

It is as if, if you are going to the hospital you always have to wake up way before dawn and go to queue, oh our healthcare system…. 

Dr Samuel Kaba, Director, Institutional Care Division at the Ghana Health Service, once advised health professionals to receive patients with a smile and sense of care. 

He said: “Our basic role is to serve each patient with a smile on our face even in the most difficult of times; our role is to serve with professionalism with good customer care, change our attitude and be positive. 

One would wonder how many health workers actually heed this call and live by this. 

Dr Kaba said:  " Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and none medical personnel, private or public sector...we are all potential patients with the possibility of falling sick and visiting a hospital at any given moment in our lives." 

He said the Ghana Health Service had developed a hospital strategic plan that will involve the active participation of all, under the plan all hospitals shall ensure that patient safety is adhered to, to reduce medical errors, establish a 24 hour accident and emergency teams and protect the vulnerable and disadvantage including the neonate, the infant under five among others. 

Most of the time, some of these plans, policy and programmes are reduced to media talk, the actual situation on the ground is the direct opposite of policy.

Wouldn’t it be nice, leaving a doctor’s consulting room with a very good understanding of your situation and being empowered to either agree or not agree with a doctor’s suggestion? 

The reason some private health centres have gain popularity lies simply with how the doctor takes his/her time to explain things to their patients. Sometimes one thinks it is impossible to achieve these good practices. 

Usually the same excuses of patient-doctor ratio, and bla bla bla, goes on and on but I strongly think that medical practice should not be shrouded in secrecy. 

We all have the right to medical information about ourselves; let’s start advocating and demanding better health care services, attitudes and practices. As the saying goes Health is Wealth.


Hannah Awadzi (Mrs)
Ghana News Agency


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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.