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China’s Cyber Scoundrels: The New Face of Medical Dispute Agitation

Do you still remember the term “medical dispute agitation”? About a decade or so ago, this term was frequently in the air, marking an era of extremely strained doctor-patient relationships.

During that time, the overall medical standards were not advanced, and there were various unregulated, grey areas within hospitals that cast a shadow over the already delicate relationship between medical professionals and patients.

I vividly recall a lecture in the internal medicine department. After imparting professional knowledge, the director looked at the hundreds of innocent faces of future doctors in the audience and sincerely said, “Pay attention to protecting yourself.”

At that time, I didn’t understand. Protect oneself? From what? Who in the hospital would harm me?

Later, news of incidents involving the injury or murder of doctors unfolded before my eyes. On one occasion, I was surrounded by dozens of unidentified “family members” in the ward, resulting in a chaotic scene with the police grappling with them.

From then on, I learned about a phenomenon called “medical dispute agitation.”

In fact, it’s challenging to define medical dispute agitation precisely. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish it from the normal rights protection activities of family members, just as it’s difficult to apportion blame in a medical incident—”the doctor has their reasons, and the patient has theirs.”

However, the emergence of professional agitators has tarnished the term. They gather at the hospital gates, offering rights protection services to families, holding banners, sending wreaths, displaying bodies, and burning paper money—all in the name of demanding substantial compensation from hospitals. More often than not, to avoid trouble, hospitals opt to compensate, which has further fueled the growth of these “professional medical dispute agitators.”

It wasn’t until more doctors were harmed and medical order was disrupted that a shift occurred. Public security organs began to crack down on medical dispute agitation, and its presence in reality has since diminished.

However, the need to expand the impact of incidents to exert pressure on hospitals and secure excessive compensation still exists, leading to the rise of “cyber scoundrels.”

Thanks to the recommendation algorithms of various internet apps, I often come across posts by family members on platforms like Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book). These posts share some common traits:

  1. The titles explicitly name the hospitals and doctors. “Doctor XX at XX Hospital, Department of XX, is profiting from the misfortune of others and causing harm!”
  2. They often unilaterally exaggerate medical faults, linking specific medical actions to outcomes. “The pacemaker implanted at XX Hospital led to my father’s death,” “Doctor XX’s unauthorized use of antibiotics killed my 3-year-old child.”
  3. They deliberately conceal the patient’s condition, downplaying or trivializing the illness. “A healthy person—why did they die in the hospital?”

I collectively refer to those who post such content as “Cyber Scoundrels.” The term “scoundrel” denotes a person, especially one who is dishonest, immoral, or to some extent, behaves badly, fitting the nature of medical dispute agitation.

“Cyber scoundrels” are individuals who post on various online platforms about their family members’ treatment processes, often deliberately exaggerating medical negligence, concealing the patient’s condition, narrating events one-sidedly, or even maliciously defaming hospitals and doctors. They hope to use online public opinion to pressure hospitals and the doctors involved, thereby gaining an advantage in negotiations over medical incidents.

For example, consider the following typical post:

“My father died after a pacemaker surgery.”

Going to the hospital for a cough, a CT scan revealed pleural effusion. After being admitted to the respiratory department, it was thought to be heart failure-induced pleural effusion, so he was transferred to the cardiology department. The doctor suggested a pacemaker to prevent sudden death (the doctor only mentioned sudden death and didn’t tell me anything else. I believe there were indications for this procedure, but whether his condition was suitable at that time is what I doubt). Since he was admitted, his 93-year-old mother has never seen him and has been waiting for him to be discharged every day.

The Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital did not recommend a pacemaker (why not listen to Shanghai? Because every trip to Shanghai for a check-up was too tiring for my dad, and each time it was through connections to see a professor, which took half a day and only lasted a few minutes, so he felt tired and thought about going directly to Shaoyifu Hospital, as his parents’ generation was used to Shaoyifu and the hospital had a good reputation). The hospital’s doctor recommended the implantation.

No preoperative check was conducted, and the surgery was performed directly using the examination report from ten days prior. Postoperatively, no antibiotics were used, leading to a fever on the third day. The hospital’s doctor was slow to administer medication, and it took a full 60 hours after the surgery to use antibiotics. In the end, my father suffered from sepsis, leading to multiple organ failure and admission to the ICU.

After nearly 60 days in the ICU, he passed away, all due to a pacemaker. If we hadn’t trusted the hospital, my father would still be at home having meals with us, enjoying a happy family time! My father had just retired, and the 30th of this month was his 61st birthday, which he didn’t get to see.

  1. “My father died after a pacemaker surgery.” The title misleadingly suggests a causal relationship by linking two events. Yes, he had a pacemaker surgery, and yes, he died. But was it the pacemaker that caused his death?
  2. “Since he was admitted, his 93-year-old mother has not seen him.” Using emotional family ties to gain a public opinion advantage. No, the elderly mother not seeing her critically ill son is also the hospital’s fault?
  3. “The hospital in Shanghai did not recommend a pacemaker.” Using another hospital’s opinion to create an impression that the pacemaker was unnecessary. In fact, whether to implant a pacemaker is a medical action, and it’s not certain that the hospital in Shanghai is right.
  4. “No preoperative check was conducted, and the surgery was performed directly using the examination report from ten days prior.” Hey, if a check was done, would you say it’s excessive or repetitive? Examinations have a validity period, and some important examinations do not need to be done every day; a report from two weeks ago can still be used.
  5. “No antibiotics were used postoperatively, leading to a fever on the third day.” The use of antibiotics is now extremely standardized, and hospitals are aware of the “DDD” control. For a pacemaker implantation, which is not even considered a surgery but more of an interventional procedure, no hospital in China would give you antibiotics directly.
  6. “The doctor was slow to use medication, and it took a full 60 hours after the surgery to use antibiotics, and finally, my father was admitted to the ICU due to sepsis, leading to multiple organ failure.” It was mentioned that he had a fever on the third day post-surgery, so it’s reasonable to use antibiotics after 60 hours. Doctors need evidence, not hindsight; they must see signs of fever and infection before prescribing medication.
  7. “After nearly 60 days in the ICU, he passed away, all due to a pacemaker. If we hadn’t trusted XXX Hospital, my father would still be at home having meals with us, enjoying a happy family time!” Oh, a severe heart failure patient with pulmonary edema—I don’t believe he could be having meals with you at home without a pacemaker.

 

Ella Shi

Ella Shi is a third-grade student of the Literature Department, a lover of literature and photography. She used to work for the college media community as an author of the school paper. Now she joins FirmKnow to practice and explore her business knowledge.

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