DUBAI // When their 12-year-old son began to suffer from constant headaches, an Indian couple in Sharjah did what responsible parents do, and immediately sought medical care.
They took him to two specialists at leading private hospitals in Dubai, who both diagnosed rheumatic fever – a life-changing condition that would require weekly injections for many years.
Daunted by the devastating news that their son would need painful and expensive treatment, his parents sought a third opinion. The third doctor told them the boy had been misdiagnosed – he actually had vitamin D deficiency.
“Both gave us the wrong diagnoses and insisted on starting medication immediately. The treatment process was not just painful but also expensive,” said the boy’s mother, who asked not to be named.
“We were shocked when we were told that the earlier diagnosis was wrong and that our son was only suffering from vitamin D deficiency.”
Despite the misdiagnosis, she and her husband did not report it to health authorities. Experts say that too many people in the UAE are unaware of patient rights regarding wrong diagnoses and medical malpractice, or are unwilling to report them.
“Only a few come forward to the authorities, while most of the victims prefer to remain silent,” said K S Abdul Azeez, a lawyer at Amal Khamis Advocates in Dubai. “There is an overall lack of awareness among the people about their rights as patients and residents, and because of this, they are reluctant to report to the authorities.”
Even though the woman’s son has recovered after being treated for the deficiency, she said that they “decided to remain silent” rather than complain.
“My husband wanted to report these irresponsible doctors, but I discouraged him. I was scared of anything happening to us,” she said.
“We don’t know much about rules and laws over here. We are middle-class people in Dubai and we cannot afford any negative fall-out. Hence we decided to remain silent.”
Mr Azeez said there were three ways to file complaints in such cases. They should begin with a complaint to health authorities, submit a case to police or a file a civil case in court.
Court cases can be expensive for those with a low income, but the first two options do not cost money, he said.
“People don’t look at these things as social responsibility,” said Mr Azeez. If they have evidence of a wrong diagnosis or improper treatment, it should be reported and doctors held “accountable”, he said.
“If we ignore it, it means we are encouraging the person to continue his or her irresponsible attitude,” said Mr Azeez.
Patients who have been wrongly diagnosed should first contact the concerned health facility, Dubai Health Authority said.
If the problem was not resolved, patients should contact medical authorities in their emirate.
“All medical complaints received by DHA are confidential, and so patients should not be scared to complain, as it is their right to do so.”
Dr Ala Atari, chief executive of Medcare, a private healthcare provider, agreed that patients should not be afraid to complain.
“It is the patient’s right to complain if they are not satisfied with the treatment provided,” he said.
He added that if staff are found guilty of malpractice, they face strict repercussions.
Healthcare providers were obligated to ensure patients were in safe hands, but in the “rare event” of malpractice, “we take the responsibility of ensuring the case is addressed with speed, efficiency and care,” he said.
“We endeavour to resolve any incident that may occur and to ensure our patients are always taken care of no matter what.”