Could increase in medical negligence cases have impact on health tourism in Malaysia? Medical experts share insights

04 May 2024 03:00pm
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - Growing concerns about medical negligence in Malaysia has raised questions about its impact on the country's medical tourism industry, with medical experts noting a worrisome increasing trend on the matter.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Public Health Medicine Specialist Professor Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh said she could not say for certain regarding the frequency of medical negligence cases in Malaysia as the Health Ministry (MOH) kept its data private.

However, based on her observations, she believed that it was on the rise.

"In light of the competitive landscape of global medical tourism, maintaining Malaysia's position as a preferred destination requires careful consideration of medical negligence concerns. As medical malpractice lawsuits rise, heightened public awareness necessitates greater scrutiny and adherence to ethical standards.

"Private hospitals, often covered by health insurance, must ensure transparency and accountability in medical reimbursements to prevent negligence. To mitigate risks, healthcare providers may resort to defensive medicine, leading to increased costs for patients.

"It is imperative for healthcare providers to adhere to national guidelines and uphold strict patient safety standards, monitored by clinical teams and hospital boards," she said.

Sharifa emphasised that commitment to quality care was essential in preserving Malaysia's reputation as a trusted medical tourism destination.

In terms of Malaysia's reputation as a medical tourism destination, she said the ethical standards, quality of care and overall reputation remained strong.

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"It is important to note that cases of medical negligence are thoroughly investigated and there may be valid reasons behind them.

She said in many instances, medical decisions were made after thorough discussions with the patient's family and every effort was made to provide the best possible care.

Echoing Sharifa's views, Consultant Public Health Specialist Professor Dr Hematram Yadav said incidents of medical negligence in the country appeared to be increasing, although specific data was lacking.

"Even the MOH may not have accurate data, as collecting such information can be challenging.

"However, reports indicated a 30 per cent increase between 2009 and 2010, with potentially higher figures due to increased awareness today," he said.

On the impact of medical negligence cases on Malaysia's reputation as a medical tourism destination, Hematram said he believed the it may not be significant given Malaysia's strong reputation in delivering medical care, especially in specialties such as cardiothoracic and orthopaedic care.

He said the medical tourism in Malaysia was cost-effective compared to many countries in the region and it has several renowned hospitals too.

However, he said to enhance this sector, a centralised one-stop centre must be established with technology upgrade, ensuring that the country has high-quality doctors and maintain competitiveness in pricing and medical care quality.

Hematram stressed that Malaysia should continue to uphold its high standards of healthcare services and facilities, which remained affordable in comparison to other nations.

"We have numerous hospitals that excel in medical care, equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and staffed by highly trained specialists.

"It is essential to sustain these quality standards and develop exceptional specialists in the coutry," he said.

On April 15, it was reported that a local assistant engineer at the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) sued a private hospital for RM55 million claiming that he acquired a disability due to negligence by the hospital's surgeon.

Isman Ibrahim, 41, claimed that the negligence resulted in the amputation of both his legs five years ago.

In addition to the physical trauma, he said he experienced severe nerve pain every two days due to the surgeon's negligence, stating that he had not slept well in five years.

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