The world of social media is flooded with opinions and comments over the sacking of a doctor at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in Karachi, one of Pakistan’s best private hospitals, for sending a Facebook friend request to one of his patients. The fact that the patient was a two-time Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s sister may have played a part in the doctor’s sacking, it is being argued by social media activists — many of whom are very upset at how this has played out.
The comments made by the Oscar-winning national hero suggest that a doctor made the request after her sister went to the AKUH emergency and the doctor who tended to her later tried to add her on Facebook. She added that the doctor in question “had messed with the wrong women in the wrong family” and she would definitely report him as harassment needed to be stopped.
Some are of the opinion that women have started to take things too seriously and at the slightest instance are ready to attack men and accuse them of harassment. I am not of that opinion.
The AKUH administration, however, neither confirmed nor denied the development. “The AKUH always maintains the highest standards of confidentiality and will not release any information on either employees or patients,” the spokesperson told this newspaper. While many may consider this issue trivial, there are many questions that come to mind to a media practitioner that need to be addressed.
First of all, does a friend request on Facebook be construed as harassment? Nighat Dad, lawyer and founder of Digital Rights Foundation, says she considered this harassment. “It’s a breach of confidentiality between a doctor and his patient,” she says. My colleague Khurram Husain, a senior journalist and an otherwise sensible person, argues that a friend request on Facebook does not mean sexual harassment. I tend to agree with Khurram. But Nighat isn’t wrong either. Possibly Nighat has taken the matter two steps ahead. While it may not construe as harassment at this stage, she is talking about the sacrosanct doctor-patient relationship. It cannot get personal.
In that respect, this is an issue of ethics. Ethically a doctor cannot use his or her position to befriend a patient. Legally, if the doctor does try to abuse this relationship with a patient, it could end up being a legal issue. But at this stage, it is an ethical one. Ethically, the doctor should not have approached the patient with a friend request. Possibly he got carried away watching all those American hospital serials where everything and anything can happen.
Two more questions remain. Should a doctor be sacked for breaching ethics and not breaking any laws? Was it too harsh a punishment? Also, whether the AKUH would have reacted the same way if this wasn’t a national hero and celebrity making the complaint but an ordinary citizen?
In my opinion, ethics are as important as law. I hold this true of my profession — journalism. And I hold this for doctors and lawyers too. If we ignore ethics, we can end up becoming monsters. Given this, I also think any person who has acted unethically should be given the chance to redeem themselves. In this particular case, I know that most doctors are unaware of AKUH’s social media policy. It is a matter of using this incident to drum home some basic rules on ethics with regard to social media.
As far as SOC is concerned, I think in the past too the AKUH has acted on public complaints. Being an international figure, I am sure played a part in how AKUH reacted to SOC. But given its status as one of Pakistan’s premier medical facilities, it has always been very sensitive about its public image. But of course there have been instances where the AKUH has been unable to get across its point of view when some posts of medical malpractice went viral.
In my humble opinion, all parties have a lesson to learn from this incident. The most important for me, of course, is to take public opinion and social media more seriously. And the need to evolve with the times. Doctors need to be educated on how to use social media, as is the case with other professions. Ignorance in my opinion is no excuse.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2017.
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