Third-degree burn after TCM treatment goes awry

Woman who suffered blisters and scarring agrees to a $50k settlement with physician

Hoping to ease the pain in her left shoulder, Ms Tan sought help at a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic, after her husband recommended it.

But the treatment on April 11 last year went awry, causing the finance and human resource director to suffer a third-degree burn and painful blisters.

The 54-year-old, who declined to reveal her full name, commenced legal action in April this year against TCM physician Jin Jinhua and her employer Raffles Chinese Medicine (RCM) for alleged negligence and alleged breach of contractual agreement.

RCM is a unit under Raffles Medical Group.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

Ms Tan told The Straits Times on Monday that she has agreed to a sum of $50,000 in a private settlement with Ms Jin, without an admission of liability by both parties.

Ms Tan decided to engage lawyer Raj Singh Shergill in October last year (2016), after reading news reports of a similar case he previously handled. She had initially approached RCM unrepresented but was not agreeable to the compensation they had offered. 

An RCM spokesman said the settlement was negotiated independently by Ms Jin with Ms Tan.

"As part of the settlement agreement, the patient released RCM from liability," she said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MS TAN

IN PAIN

When I got home, the blisters became bigger and the pressure was just building up inside them.

MS TAN, on what happened after the moxibustion treatment.

She added that Ms Jin left RCM shortly after the incident, which happened during a moxibustion treatment. Moxibustion involves the burning of a spongy herb called mugwort on or near the skin. The herb can also be placed inside a ceramic crucible.

Recounting the incident to The Straits Times, Ms Tan said she was lying on her side when Ms Jin strapped a heated container to her arm and left the room.

"I started to feel the heat... and when I tried to flip over, I heard this crackling sound. I didn't dare to move after that."

About 15 minutes later, Ms Jin returned and was alarmed to see that blisters had formed, according to court documents.

Using an acupuncture needle, Ms Jin burst the blisters and bandaged the wound. Ms Tan then paid $108 for the session and left the clinic. "When I got home, the blisters became bigger and the pressure was just building up inside them," she said.

When the blisters did not go away after a few days, Ms Tan visited several specialists, who eventually diagnosed her condition as a third-degree burn.

She had previously undergone about four sessions of acupuncture with Ms Jin, but that day she was asked to give moxibustion a try as this was said to be more effective, she said.

After the wound healed about a month later, she began laser treatment - costing about $380 each session - to smoothen the 4cm by 3cm scar.

Doctors told her that she may have to continue the laser treatment for another year, although the scar is likely to be permanent.

"I should have shouted for help. I still ask myself why I didn't do so," Ms Tan said. Since the incident, she feels uneasy whenever she hears a sizzling sound.

To date, her medical expenses have come to about $4,000. She said: "I just hope that more people will be aware of the risks involved in going for such TCM treatments and not let their guard down."

Said the RCM spokesman: "We have protocols in place and they are constantly reinforced to our physicians."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Third-degree burn after TCM treatment goes awry'. Print Edition | Subscribe