Local physicians need to put their patients first

Faith-Zaba.jpg

Faith Zaba

A SHARP increase of consultation fees by physicians this week sent shockwaves throughout the country. Local physicians hiked consultation fees by more than 300%; two days after government abolished the multi-currency regime and re-introduced the Zimbabwean dollar.

Candid Comment,Faith zaba
fzaba@zimind.co.zw

According to the National Physicians Association of Zimbabwe, patients will now have to fork out ZW$1 800 (US$225 as at yesterday’s parallel market street rate) for consultation and ZW$1 050 (US$131) for review. Gravely ill people in the intensive care (ICU), high dependency unit (HDU) and critical care unit (CCU) have to pay ZW$3 750 (US$469) for the first day and ZW$2 250 (US$281) per day for the second to the fourth day and ZW$1 500 (US$188) a day thereafter.

The physicians are also charging ZW$1 800 for initial consultation at hospitals and ZW$1 800 per day for the first four days and ZW$1 200 (US$150) per day for the subsequent week after the first five days and ZW$900 (US$113) per day thereafter.

This means if a patient is admitted in the ICU for seven days, the person has to pay a total of ZW$17 700 (US$2 213), including the ZW$1 800 consultation fee and ZW$900 for the review. A patient in an ordinary ward will be charged a total of ZW$13 500 (US$1 687) for consultation, fees for seven days admission and review after discharge.

Normally, critically ill patients require intensive care by a coordinated team, including physicians who are trained in critical care medicine. What this means is that some of the patients in ICU, HDU and CCU are being attended to by other specialists and the ZW$17 700 becomes part of a bigger medical bill.

Remember this figure excludes drugs, which are also steeply priced, pathology tests, hospital admission costs and other healthcare fees.

This is just madness considering the majority of Zimbabweans earn an average ZW$500 a month and 90% of the adult population is not formally employed.

The physicians and other specialist doctors hiking treatment fees might as well have condemned to death ailing Zimbabweans in need of their services. The doctors are putting at high risk the lives of millions of people, including those suffering from chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, Aids and HIV, cancer, heart disease, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and autoimmune diseases. These people are already grappling with high cost of life-saving drugs.

I wonder if the physicians remember why they took the Hippocratic Oath and promised to practice medicine ethically and prioritise the plight of patients. They swore to uphold the medical profession’s ethical standards and promised to stand for their patients without compromise.

As Dr Lisa Rosenbaum and Dr Daniela Lamas wrote in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine: “Put simply, helping a patient become well enough to climb the stairs to his apartment is meaningless if our care leaves him unable to afford that apartment. Protecting our patients from financial ruin is fundamental to doing no harm”.

Zimbabwean physicians need to start putting patients first.

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