OPINION

Very Important Patients

A good friend suffering from a health problem has found himself in the, paradoxically, disadvantaged position of being a public figure. Indeed, Greece’s VIP patients seem to be worse off than the thousands of their faceless counterparts. This is because, on top of all the other problems of our national health system, they have to put up with the egos of hospital prima donnas and the usual PR fluff. It’s a case of Greek DNA. Greek doctors’ work, particularly star doctors, is ruled by their egos. They often refuse to attend medical councils because they cannot stand criticism. The only authority they recognize is their own. There have been cases of patients suffering from some rare disease whose doctors refuse to call in a specialist because he belongs to the «other» faction or because they are afraid that doing so would damage their reputation. In fact, patients often reach a critical stage before they get help from a specialist. VIP patients spark battles between egos. The treatment of the late Andreas Papandreou was often a cause of controversy. One doctor infamously told another: «You are not the Himalayas of medicine.» All doctors want a VIP patient and they want a monopoly on his treatment, even if this entails risk, as a case may exceed their capabilities. Undoubtedly, not all doctors are driven by an urge to outshine their rivals. The system is flawed, because we have failed to adopt practices that are standard in other countries: A patient’s history is copied onto a computer file, the neurologist goes through the file prepared by previous doctors and contacts a specialist if he has any queries. When things get tough, he will put his egoism aside and consult a specialist without worrying about his reputation. Greece is no stranger to such phenomena. Like some quasi-third-world country, we still need to learn how to do systematic work, without personal rivalries, whims or factions. Inside a health institution, these become a question of life and death.