Don't be fooled.

How to spot a quack 5 things you need to know before you visit a doctor
news Health Tuesday, November 01, 2016 - 16:44

At least 30 quacks have been arrested from Tamil Nadu in the month of August alone.  A man was arrested in Tiruvottiyur on Monday, he had posed as a qualified doctor, doled out allopathic medicines and asking for patients to return their prescriptions.

Many of these quacks have however, returned to work after paying a penalty. So, in the interest of acquiring more qualified doctors and cured patients, how do you identify a quack? Here are the warning signs:

1. Check for qualifications: 

“The Indian Medical Association issues a certificate which every doctor must frame. We also provide numbers to report quacks. There may not be a name board, or the name will be incomplete without qualifications against the name. That is the first sign,” says Senguttayan, Chief Medical Director of the Rural Medical and Health Services of Tamil Nadu. It’s however, unreasonable in every instance to exercises this, especially among those in villages. Senguttayan says the government is conducting awareness drives among the public. 

2. Pill pushers: 

In August, the mystery fever that swept Tiruvallur and put the state on high alert was faced with the problem of quackery. “These quacks are “allopathic” doctors with a 12th grade education. They tend to prescribe a large dosage of analgesics, which can prove fatal and cause internal bleeding. Painkillers like ibugesic, normally prescribed for fever, should be avoided because of the tendency of the dengue viruses to cause hemorrhages,” says an official with the Tamil Nadu Rural Medical and Health Services who handled the case. 

Prescribing medication after medication without any knowledge of how they react with each other is a major red flag. 

3. Running no tests: 

“A doctor always runs tests. If the doctor does not run tests and pushes medication as a fix-all, you must be suspicious. Always question and ask for explanations,” says Dr. Ramachandran, a diabetologist in Chennai. When the doctor is rubbishing the idea of conducting tests and overly recommending his medical treatment, it’s time to sit up.

4. Ask questions: 

When in doubt, ask. If the doctor doesn’t explain how the medicines work, or inform you of possible side effects, it’s worth suspecting. “This is however difficult. There are qualified medical professionals who cannot answer sensible questions on treatment, and they can often be confused with quacks,” says Ramachandran. But quack or not, he’s a bad doctor either way. 

5. When they throw testimonials at you: 

What if he throws those questions back at you, gets defensive or distracts you with success stories? “Be wary of testimonials. Testimonials and anecdotes won’t work and are almost always used as a way to convince patients. It should not be taken seriously,” says Ramachandran. 

Sure, success stories are tempting, almost confirming the doctor’s legitimacy that if he’s treated many with the same ailment, it’s impossible for the treatment to fail on his part. “This is something even qualified medical doctors say, and they could be right,” says Ramachandran. But if the previous boxes are checked off and this is probably you’re third or fourth strike, it’s reason to worry.

Unclear stance on cross prescription

Dr. Jayalal, the Tamil Nadu president of the Indian Medical Association says, “There are Ayurveda and Siddha doctors who prescribe allopathic medicines. Why do they have to latch on to allopathy when they can practice their own method?” 

 In Tiruvallur in September, a Siddha practitioner prescribing allopathic medicines was apprehended as she was not authorised to do so.

The Indian Medical Association has been battling for terming these doctors as quacks with a Special Leave Petition, which was however dismissed in the Supreme Court on July 2015.

Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, the TN state government in 2010 had amended a rule defining a ‘registered medical practitioner’, thereby treating alternative Indian practitioners, including siddha, as persons ‘practising the modern scientific system of medicine’. 

This allows what is considered cross prescription in Tamil Nadu, where a practitioner of one system like Siddha or Ayurveda can also prescribe allopathic drugs. However, it is not allowed in all states.

Because of the contradiction in the Indian Medical Association's stance and the state government's notice, the boundaries have not been clearly defined. As a result, this is still murky territory. 


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