Don’t whitewash patients’ problems, top surgeon urges

One of Jamaica’s leading surgeons is urging medical practitioners to refrain from whitewashing patients’ problems, insisting instead that they conduct detailed investigations before making diagnoses.

Professor Joseph Plummer, who is head of the Department of Surgery, Radiology, Anaesthesia, and Intensive Care at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in St Andrew, yesterday appealed to his colleagues in the medical field to afford their patients the same treatment as they would wish for themselves.

“The fact of the matter is, there is need for the medical community to be a little bit more aware, in terms of not sparing patients important diagnostics,” Professor Plummer said while speaking to reporters and editors at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

He was part of a panel who visited the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue offices in St Andrew to speak about the Jamaica Cancer Society’s major fund-raising event, Relay For Life, which is set for June 1-2 at the University of Technology, Jamaica in St Andrew.

According to the UHWI professor, too often, patients who could benefit from various diagnostic investigations, do not. Instead, Professor Plummer said these patients are treated symptomatically. This, he said, is especially so for people in the more rural parts of Jamaica.

“A classic case is a man who I saw on Saturday, who had bleeding, he is 74 [years old] now,” Professor Plummer said, adding that the patient has been experiencing rectal bleeding since 2017.

“Finally he comes and he has a colonoscopy and there is a large rectal cancer,” Professor Plummer disclosed.

“Sometimes doctors tend to prescribe rather than saying, ‘Let us investigate’. And, instead of the patients spending, let’s say $50,000, they just spend $5,000, but it is really [doctors] whitewashing the problem.”

The professor said, too, that the common cancers — breast, cervical, prostate, and colorectal — are increasing, with the majority of patients, at least 60 per cent, at the time of their diagnosis, being locally advanced or metastatic.

“So either they are incurable or they need relatively expensive chemotherapy to prolong life,” Professor Plummer said.

He has a message for his medical colleagues.

“This is what I teach medical students and residents, and I say, ‘Always treat the patients as you would like to be treated’, that’s how I try to treat my patients. I think if we use that principle, it allows us to make the right decision, most of the times,” Professor Plummer said.

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