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Stand up for Serbian health reform. Seriously!

Posted by John McDonough  November 29, 2012 02:53 PM

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This is one reason I love my job!

One of my students last year, a young physician from Serbia named Dr. Predrag Stojicic, came to Harvard to learn how to help Serbians and Serbian physicians to stand up for themselves. Predrag.jpg

Like many nations, Serbia has a publicly-financed health system that promises universal medical coverage for everyone. Because Serbia, like many nations regardless of system, has a shortage of medical professionals, many physicians take bribes from patients before they provide services covered by law. Because there is no alternative, most people are afraid to report corruption, fearing that doctors might deny them care.

To address this, a dedicated group of Serbian physicians and citizens, including Predrag, organized under the organization called Serbia on the Move, have launched a new national website called "What's Your Doctor Like?" (The U.S. Agency for International Development -- USAID -- finances it, in part.) The purpose of the website is twofold: first, to allow Serbian patients to share their experiences with health services -- backed up by 40 teams of 230 activists who will pressure health institutions to deal with doctors who are poorly evaluated; and second, to personalize responsibility for the system by allowing patients to evaluate individual physicians.

Here's the site: www.kakavjedoktor.org and the new front page photo:

tape.jpg


It could not be easier: type in the name of your doctor and answer three questions: 1. Did your doctor listen to you? 2. Do you trust your doctor? 3. Would you recommend your doctor to your family and friends? In addition to asking three demographic questions, the site allows patients to report corruption to the public prosecutor's office. Expose the bad docs and support the good ones -- that's the idea.


The website launched on Saturday, November 17th with hopes that as many as 10,000 would eventually visit the site. It has already had more than 30,000 visitors, 12,650 patient evaluations, and 5,000 out of 22,696 physicians evaluated. Here's a quote from my former student, Predrag:

"We believe that an opportunity for patients to share their experiences is not a threat to doctors, but a chance to open a dialogue to improve health care in Serbia. The only doctors who should be afraid of this website are those who have been corrupted. The first seven days prove this claim. Fully 85% of doctors got the average grade higher than 4.5 (on 1-5 scale). People are not hesitant to encourage good doctors and share good experiences as well. And they don't want to be silenced."

Now?

The Serbian government, based on invasion of privacy complaints by some Serbian physicians, has ordered the website organizers to shut down the site by Friday or face the consequences. While the organizers challenge the order in court, the site is not available to anyone except for the photo of a gagged individual on the homepage.

Across the world, health system corruption is a serious problem in many, many systems, including the U.S. where we call it "fraud, waste, and abuse." Yes, we don't have many physicians taking "under the table" bribes, but we do permit our physicians to accept "over the table" bribes, otherwise known as "concierge medicine." So, Americans, let's not get judgmental and go "tsk, tsk" on our Serbian friends.

Instead, let's all -- right, left, center -- stand up for young activists putting it on the line to get their health care system right. Visit their website, friend it, and spread the word, please. Everyone claims to support transparency, patient activism and patient responsibility. Let's show it and stand up not just for Serbian health reform, let's make a stand for anti-health care corruption every where.  Health care corruption is an international problem and right now, ground zero in the fight against it is in Serbia of all places.

Serbians are standing up for us. Let's stand up for them! Go for it, America!!

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »

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