Sunday, 5 December, 2021
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OPINION

Need For Medical Literacy



Aashish Mishra

Earlier this week, social media was abuzz with a viral video of a woman claiming to have broken into the ICU of a hospital to find the doctor doing push-ups over her sick relative’s body. The video gained thousands of views and attracted hundreds of comments of people lauding the woman for storming into an area as sensitive as a hospital’s ICU and calling medical professionals careless, apathetic and inhumane.
Now, among other things, that video highlighted one glaring issue – a disturbing lack of medical literacy among the Nepali populace. The doctor mentioned in that viral video was actually performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), an emergency procedure that combines chest compressions with artificial ventilation to manually preserve intact brain function until further measures can be taken to restore spontaneous blood circulation and breathing in a person who is in cardiac arrest. But the fact that the woman thought it was “push-ups” and so many people on social media believed her shows that many of us are not aware of even general medical procedures.
This lack of awareness is a serious problem because it leads to unpleasant actions. Once again referencing the video, the woman and her family broke into an intensive care unit that houses critically ill patients because she and her family felt uneasy about the doctor’s actions. They thought that the doctor was being careless when, in fact, he was trying to save the life of their sick relative.
In other instances, people, not understanding the medical context, blame complications on medical professionals and vandalise hospitals and manhandle health workers.
This then creates a lose-lose situation where the doctors and nurses do not feel safe while working and the patients do not get quality treatment. So, this universally defeating situation must change and the only way to do that is to develop a basic level of medical literacy among people.
Medical literacy means an elementary understanding of general medical procedures and interventions that a person might encounter on a regular basis either inside or outside a medical setting. Just as literacy means being able to recognise and understand the fundamental A B Cs of reading and writing, medical literacy means recognising and understanding the fundamentals of treatment.
One should not need to be a doctor or a nurse to know what CPR is or how to perform it. One should not need to have medical experience to be able to bandage a bleeding area or take care of a broken limb until trained help arrives.
One should have the basic knowledge to know what goes on in a hospital and why beating doctors and nurses and destroying life-saving machines is a bad idea.
Many countries around the world realise the importance of medical literacy and hence, include it in their curriculum. Children are taught CPR and Heimlich manoeuvre in schools. Colleges sometimes send their students to shadow medical professionals as part of their assignments. Unfortunately, we do not have that in Nepal. So, hospitals must step up to fill the gap.
They must organise awareness camps, just like they hold health camps, to educate people about what doctors do. They can send their staff to schools and colleges to hold interactions with students. Healthcare institutions must enhance their communication mechanism to reach out to the public and explain to them their actions.
People are very sensitive about their and their loved one’s health, which can turn to anger pretty quickly. It is also a fact that some hospital staffs behave rudely and take it a chore to have to answer patients’ questions. Faults also lie with healthcare institutions themselves. But, in most cases, unpleasant incidents occur because of a lack of knowledge that medical literacy can address.