What is section 304 of the Indian Penal Code
The section states that whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be awarded imprisonment for life or for a specific term which may be extended up to 10 years and also fine may be imposed on certain cases. It is a non-bailable offence. There are two parts in this section:
First is when an act is done with the intention of causing the death of that particular individual or causing bodily pain or injury which may result in the death of the person then they shall be awarded imprisonment with up to 10 years or more depending upon the discretion and decision of the judge in a particular case.
Secondly, when an act is committed, with the idea that the act may result in death, but not with the intention of causing death(or to commit an act that may directly result in the death of the person).
Telephonic consultation by doctors resulting in culpable negligence
It is important that the doctors should note that prescribing medicines via telephonic conversation to the patient without diagnosing the problem from which the patient is suffering may result in culpable negligence under section 304 of the Indian penal code.
In today’s times, it is always better that all medical practitioners follow a prescribed set of standard care treatment which they shall provide to the patient so that the medical practitioner does not get punishment with respect to any form of medical negligence as the laws are strict towards the medical practitioner and hence, it is always better to follow the prescribed norms which shall be as per laws.
An error in diagnosing the patient’s health issue shall come under medical negligence under section 304 but, in the case of prescribing medicines without diagnosing the patient’s health issue will result in culpable negligence.
- Doctor Jacob Mathew’s Case
In this case, the Supreme Court stated that if a doctor has to be made criminally liable for the patient’s death it is very important that the patient or the relatives of the patient must prove that the doctor was incompetent in performing the task or he/she was negligent towards the patients’ health. Whereas cases which are filed under the civil liability, mere compensation is awarded to the victims of medical negligence.
The Supreme Court has laid down certain guidelines as to when an action be taken against medical practitioners with reference to medical negligence, they are as follows-
- In cases of the error caused while judging the best alternative treatment that could be done in the case. The doctor cannot be accused of culpable negligence in such a case.
- The medical professionals shall be held liable if they do not possess the requisite professional skill.
- Martin F D’souza Vs Mohd Ishfaq Case No- 3541 of 2002
In this case, decided by the Supreme Court of India, the two-bench judge explained certain precautions which should be taken by all medical practitioners so that they can protect themselves from complaints which arise due to medical negligence. Further, it lays down that telephonic conversation is under the preview of culpable negligence and one must not prescribe medicines on phone without properly examining the patient.
Sometimes, the telephonic consultation may save time and is more flexible in terms of accessibility as it is more convenient for both the doctor and the patient but it is important that the doctor must arrange a face to face meeting if the condition of the patient is not improving so that there is efficiency in the treatment and the method or the medicines can be changed timely.
The medical practitioner can also record the conversation that is happening between the doctor and the patient with the prior approval of the patient. So, it can be used as proof in case a matter involving culpable negligence arise.
It is important that all medical practitioners maintain all medical records and important data regarding the patient’s health and maintain the confidentiality of the same. It should also be the duty of the doctor to make sure, the information about the patient shouldn’t be shared with anyone.
In cases where the medical practitioners do not follow the rules laid down, it may sometimes lead to medical negligence and charge sheet may be filed against the doctor committing the act.
Protection from medical negligence or culpable negligence
- Meeting the standard care treatment method: The medical practitioner can keep himself up to date with the latest standard care treatment so that the health of the patient is not hampered, and so that it improves through the latest treatment methods which in turn will help the medical practitioner to avoid cases arising out of medical negligence or culpable negligence.
- Maintain proper documentation and health records of patients with that of prescribing medicines: It is always better to maintain a record of everything including the medicines that are being prescribed to the patient for improving the health condition. This step will face difficulty in execution in terms of telephonic consultations to maintain a record. And also, the conversations between the doctor and the patient, which can be used as evidence in the court of law if required in future.
- The doctor must engage in an interactive session with the patient:It is important that the doctor must speak to the patient and take prior permission before starting any treatment and also it is the duty of the doctor to explain the risks involved and the method or the process in which the treatment will be carried out by the doctor. This must also be recorded in the form of a document or in any other format.
Thus, if the medical practitioner is prescribing medicines to the patient on call, it would be the duty of the professional to record the conversation and maintain proper documentation of the treatment that he is giving to the patient on call so that he can protect himself from the cases of culpable negligence and as well as medical negligence. This will help the doctor to produce such documents as a part of the evidence in the court of law. The medical professionals shall discharge their duties and responsibilities with the utmost care and shall be careful while giving treatment or performing any minor or complex surgery.