MOH to doctors: Use only 'work' languages'

Tasnim Lokman

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Health Ministry has ordered an immediate stop to the practice by many doctors who conducted ward rounds in languages other than English and Bahasa Malaysia. Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye, in responding to the New Sunday Times’ front-page report yesterday on this trend, said the ministry allowed only “working languages” — Bahasa Malaysia (BM) and English as they were languages commonly used by medical and healthcare personnel in the country. “Communication during ward rounds, when it involves doctors and nurses must be done using only English or BM.

“Stop doing ward rounds using languages other than the two,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday, adding that he expected all doctors to abide by this rule. Those in the medical profession had told the NST about this age-old practice in wards. Doctors said the practice impeded the learning process as ward rounds were intended to allow every doctor in the ward to share updates on a patient’s progress, participate in an active learning process and discuss complex clinical issues with each other seamlessly. A survey involving almost 100 doctors in July revealed that 80 per cent of the respondents had experienced being in a discussion where they had no clue what was being shared because of the language used.

A doctor said the practice was happening way too often and showed no sign of stopping. Dr Lee said English and Bahasa Malaysia were used for medical records, and therefore should be the languages used for communication among medical personnel in the wards. However, he pointed that it was different with doctor-to-patient communication or direct communication between one doctor and another. “Communication between patient and doctors is generally done using a patient’s language, or in a language the patient can understand . “Verbal communication between a doctor and another is a private matter, even if it is work-related.” He told the NST that his ministry was awaiting the outcome of an ongoing investigation into such cases, which this newspaper revealed yesterday.

Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine dean Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said doctors guilty of this should know better. “It is common courtesy to speak in a language others in the group you are in understand.

“Secondly, it is unacceptable and poses a huge risk... even
jeopardising the patient’s interest.” She said such a trend would never take hold at the University Malaya Medical Centre, and if she had wind of it, she would personally put a stop to it. Dr Adeeba said it was unfortunate that the practice had been allowed to happen and those guilty of doing so not been stopped from the start. In its report yesterday, the NST quoted among others, a doctor under the pseudonym Dr Johan Suksmajaya, who had raised the matter on social media in July.

Many doctors are standing behind him and have expressed their displeasure over the practice in a survey that he initiated. Initial results of his data collection showed that 42 out of 80 respondents were medical officers, while 19 of them were with Penang General Hospital. The 42 out of 80 cases, he stated, involved medical wards. The data showed more than 80 per cent of them experienced it on a daily basis. Besides Penang General Hospital, other hospitals frequently mentioned in the survey were Ipoh General Hospital, Seberang Jaya Hospital, Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu, as well as certain departments in Sultan Ismail Hospital and Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd