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Sunday, September 25, 2011

58% increase in complaints filed against doctors: SMC

iTODAY:Vimita Mohandas | Sep 25, 2011 6:00 AM
SINGAPORE - The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has reported a 58 per cent jump in the number of complaints filed against doctors last year, compared to the year before.

To address the problem, the council will review its Ethical Code and Guidelines, which is expected to be finalised by the first quarter of next year.

The SMC revealed this at the Second Physician's Pledge Affirmation Ceremony attended by 380 doctors at the National University of Singapore.

Some 152 complaints were filed last year compared to 96 in 2009.

14 cases were referred for disciplinary inquiries, while 11 cases were issued letters of warning and 51 were issued letters of advice.

Common complaints among patients include professional negligence, incompetence and communication issues.

The SMC noted that a review of its Ethical Code and guidelines is therefore timely, especially since the role of doctors is now more complex, and the public, more demanding.

The Ethical Code represents the fundamental tenets of conduct and behaviour expected of doctors practising in Singapore. It is also a guide to all practitioners as to what SMC regards as the minimum standards required of them when carrying out their professional duties and responsibilities.

Professor Tan Ser Kiat, president of SMC, said: "There are many reasons - one is of course advancing technological demands and he must be more knowledgeable. Second and an equally important factor is the increasing demands and expectations of the public.

"From my experience, some of these demands and expectations are unrealistic and therefore we have to try to resolve that. We all know that medicine is unlike nuclear physics where one plus one is always equal to two.

"The practice of medicine is based on experience and outcomes, and no two patients are identical. So the doctor may do his best but the outcome may not necessarily be what the patient is looking for".

Another problem is a surge in the number of advertisements, particularly those for lifestyle-related medical services.

Last year saw a 41 per cent increase in the number of such cases being investigated for contravening the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics (Publicity) Regulations, compared to the year before. A total of 155 cases were investigated last year.

The Ministry of Health said a lot of the complaints had to do with consumers who said they were influenced by advertisements to undergo unnecessary medical procedures. These are usually aesthetic treatments.

The ministry said that for this year alone, 124 healthcare licensees have been disciplined for making misleading statements. These statements include claims that they have the "best medical care available" or branding themselves as "Singapore's No 1 clinic".

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "Although there is now easier access to medical information, the information needs to be contextualised and individualised. Information needs to be translated by a doctor into the right treatment for the right patient.

"Patients remain vulnerable and still need a doctor whom they can trust to help them make sense of all the information they receive."

Medical practitioners said communication is key.

The Health Ministry added the higher number of complaints could also be due to the presence of a larger pool of doctors here. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

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