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Indian American Doctor Wants Healthcare Reforms

An Indian American physician, who is president-elect of the Chicago Medical Society, has said that doctors should take the lead and work with lawmakers in the US on healthcare// reforms that should include a reduction in fines to be paid in cases of medical negligence.

Shastri Swaminathan, a psychiatrist who has served as president of the Illinois Psychiatric Society, will take over as Chicago Medical Society president June 3.

Foremost on his agenda, he said, would be to mobilize physicians to work towards a better health system that would include reducing medical malpractice premiums that have to be paid by doctors in cases of negligence.

"Something must be done before physicians start leaving Illinois. For the specialties most affected - neurosurgery and obstetrics and gynecology - the malpractice premiums have gone sky high," Swaminathan told IANS.

"Moreover, Medicare reimbursements are a concern. So, as a physician, you are hit with a triple whammy - the overheads are going up, malpractice insurance is going up, while the reimbursements are going down," he said.

Swaminathan said physicians had been "left off the table" in the current struggle for healthcare reforms.

"The key to working towards healthcare reform is for physicians to work with the legislators. Today physicians (in the US) are isolated. There is a need for them to be politically involved and be better connected to legislators," he said.

"I think physicians have been left off the table (in the debate on healthcare reforms). But if we physicians don't look after the patients' interests, who will? It is we who have to shepherd the flock."

According to him, there was also the need for better patient safety and better interaction with consumer groups.

"We cannot push for medical reforms without working for better patient safety. And patient safety involves working to eliminate judgment errors and sy stem errors. Then, doctors, private hospitals and consumer activists have to come together to present a persuasive argument for liability reform," he said.

"Physicians have not done an adequate job of building bridges with consumer groups. We need to do a better job of addressing the problems of the uninsured, and patients with pre-existing conditions. As a physician, I cannot refuse to take a patient just because he or she has had a history of diabetes and is, therefore, high risk."

Swaminathan has been a practising psychiatrist for three decades and said there had been a change in the attitude of Indians towards mental illness.

"When I was doing my residency in 1974, I would see one patient a year. Today I see over 50 annually. The perceptions have changed. Indians have begun to see mental illness as a bona fide physical illness."

Indian patients with mental illness were benefited because they had a very strong family network to fall back upon, Swaminathan said, adding that like other immigrants, Indians, too, were more comfortable seeing physicians of their own culture.

When he is not seeing patients or involved with healthcare issues, Swaminathan likes to take cent restage along with his musical group that performs Hindi pop songs.

Despite being a sought after singer at private events here, Swaminathan is modest about his talent. "My wife is a much better singer. I just accompany her on stage," he said.

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