Woman suffers third-degree burn and scarring after moxibustion TCM treatment goes wrong

Ms Tan, a 54-year-old finance and human resource director, suffered third degree burns to her left arm after going for a traditional chinese medicine treatment at Raffles Chinese Medicine at Raffles Hospital.
Ms Tan, a 54-year-old finance and human resource director, suffered third degree burns to her left arm after going for a traditional chinese medicine treatment at Raffles Chinese Medicine at Raffles Hospital.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MS TAN

SINGAPORE - Hoping to ease the pain in her left shoulder, Ms Tan sought help from 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.

Ms Tan, 54, 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.

Ms Tan told The Straits Times on Monday (June 5) that she has agreed to a sum of $50,000 in a private settlement with Ms Jin, without an admission of liability on 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. 

A 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.

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. It can also be placed inside a ceramic crucible.

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

"I started to feel 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 blister and bandaged the wound. Ms Tan then paid $108 for the session and left the clinic.

"When I got home, the blister became bigger and the pressure was just building up inside it," she said.

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

She had earlier gone through 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.

"Even till today, I felt that I should have shouted for help. I still ask myself why didn't I do so," she said, adding that since the incident, she would feel uneasy whenever she hears a sizzling sound.

With medical expenses totalling some $4,000 to date, she added: "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.