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Easy to treat patients but difficult to care for individuals: SLMA President

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Following is the speech delivered by Sri Lanka Medical Association President Dr. Ruvaiz Haniffa at the inauguration of the 131st Anniversary International Medical Congress last week at the Grand Ballroom, Galadari Hotel, Colombo:

I consider it an honour and privilege to welcome you to the 131st Anniversary International Medical Congress of the Sri Lanka Medical Association.

The SLMA which was established in 1887 is generally and unambiguously acclaimed as the oldest national organisation of medical professionals in Asia and Australasia. The SLMA comprises of and represents all grades of doctors from both the private and state sectors in Sri Lanka. This diversity gives us an indisputable and unique opportunity to serve as the apex academic and professional body for all doctors in Sri Lanka. This opportunity also places wupon us the greater responsibility to serve as the academic, professional, moral and ethical guardians of the Sri Lankan medical profession. 

In today’s medical practice the focus on the holistic/comprehensive care of the individual (as opposed to the patient) has become subservient to ‘attempting to treat/manage’ illness in patients. The concept of preserving good health by incorporating and practicing preventive and curative aspects of medicine to achieve physical, mental and social well-being in individuals, families and communities by medical professionals adhering to the highest possible standards of professional and ethical conduct seems to be a utopian ideal instead of a practical day-to-day reality. Of course, there are numerous reasons for not being able to achieve this desired state, but the problem is that over time, we in Sri Lanka seem to be moving away from this ideal at a rapidly increasing speed. 

We as doctors are forgetting why patients come to us. We are imposing our perceived superior knowledge and skills on patients more often than not in an unsolicited manner. We have in short, developed and come to accept as normal, a system of doctor-centred care in which a medical condition/disease has become the fundamental issue needing the doctor’s attention. We have lost the art of focusing on the holistic health needs of patients. 

This is why we need to shift our focus back to patients, now more than ever. Our theme for 2018,“Shifting focus from diseases to patients: Today’s vision, Tomorrow’s reality”is chosen to reflect upon the realities of health and healthcare in the 21st century, which is going to be patient/people driven from local, regional and global perspectives. The galaxy of resource persons at this conference would over the next three days, share their views as to how our vision of today will become tomorrow’s reality from the perspectives of their respective specialties.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude by wishing you a pleasant and enjoyable evening and take this opportunity to remind myself and all of you that it is indeed easy to treat patients once we master the science of medicine, but it is infinitely more difficult to care for individuals until we master the art of medicine.

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