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  • Writer's pictureO Level English Editorial

"Doctors should never be allowed to make mistakes."How far do you agree with this statement?

Doctors are professionals who have gone through a series of rigorous training and they are expected to be the experts at what they do. Is it then acceptable for them to make mistakes?

A paediatrician has recently been suspended for three months for failing to accurately diagnose and treat a one-year-old boy for Kawasaki disease in 2013 (The Straits Times, 2017).

Kawasaki disease is a rare childhood disease that affects the blood vessels. If left untreated, there may be adverse consequences, and even death to the child. Even though detecting Kawasaki disease is not straight-forward, the Singapore Medical Council reasoned that Dr Chia should have went through with additional tests to either rule out or confirm the diagnosis.

Yet, other doctors have questioned the suspension of Dr Chia by the Singapore Medical Council. "No doctor, no matter how senior or intelligent, would dare to say they have never missed a diagnosis in their career. Punishing doctors severely for missing a diagnosis would change the way doctors practice," argued Dr Desmond Wai (Wai, 2017).

Would we, as patients, be okay (financially, mentally, and psychologically) with doctors sending us for tests after tests to ensure that do not miss a diagnosis? Perhaps, we will, since we would not want to live with the uncertainty that our bodies may contain a latent disease or virus, waiting to act up at any chance. On the larger scale of things, what will this cost our healthcare system? If every single patient were to go through a series of comprehensive tests and scans to eliminate any chance of missed diagnosis, could it cause more unnecessary unintended consequences on their bodies (radiation, exposure risks)?

Should doctors then be allowed to make mistakes in a world where science may progress at a much faster rate than humans can possibly keep up?

This reminded me of an auto-biography written by Susanna Cahalan about her ordeal with NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. (A movie was almost made: Brain on Fire 2016). She was initially diagnosed with mononucleosis, then psychosis. Even after looking for a second, third, fourth opinion, doctors were almost keen to refer her to be put in a mental institution. It was much later when she was fortunately diagnosed with NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis, a disease that had been only discovered two years earlier. Perhaps, most doctors may not even be aware of the presence of this disease.

"If it took so long for one of the best hospitals in the world to get to this step, how many other people were going untreated, diagnosed with a mental illness or condemned to a life in a nursing home or a psychiatric ward?"(Cahalan, 2012).

Or could we have placed unnecessarily high expectations on our medical professionals, just so we can have someone to blame when unfortunate events happen?

Interesting scenarios to think about!

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