Docs must point out major side effects

Different patients do react differently to the same treatment.
Different patients do react differently to the same treatment.PHOTO: ST FILE

The $100,000 fine imposed on the orthopaedic doctor for failing to highlight a couple of side effects of an injection does appear arbitrary, considering that fines of between $5,000 and $10,000 and/or a suspension of between three and 12 months were meted out for similar cases in the past (Doc fined $100k for not warning patient of injection side effects; Jan 22).

Can the Singapore Medical Council explain this deviation?

No reasonable patient would expect his doctor to flag every possible side effect of a treatment, especially when this may entail a barrage of medical jargon from the less eloquent ones.

But patients certainly expect to be informed of the major repercussions of a prescribed treatment on their pre-existing health conditions to help them make an educated decision on whether to proceed with it. After all, different patients do react differently to the same treatment.

The onus is really on doctors to perform a thorough diagnosis, followed by a comprehensive explanation in layman's terms.

Is this too much to ask? It does appear so, from some industry reactions.

Perhaps these doctors may wish to take a leaf out of the books of their peers who are treating my father for high-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in his brain at the National University Hospital and St Luke's Hospital.

They summarised the pros and cons of every viable treatment option with me.

In fact, the doctor in charge of the chemotherapy programme even went as far as to task me with watching a video about the possible side effects of the regimen, before a nurse ran through the ones that are likely to occur based on his prescribed treatment.

I then summed these up for my father to prepare him mentally and emotionally for the consequences, including the risk of mortality.

If these relatively junior doctors and their teams were able to go through such basic due diligence with a patient's spokesman, why can't more senior and experienced consultants?

Perhaps it is time for the whole medical fraternity to step up and address these shared challenges via resource pooling to manage costs.

Dr Desmond Wai said that doctor-patient relationships are based on goodwill and trust (Not practical for docs to flag every possible side effect; Jan 24).

While this is most certainly true for doctors with high ethical and moral standards, it is far-fetched for those whose adherence to the Hippocratic Oath is at best tenuous.

Healthcare has become largely a money-making business for these people, and they ought to be exposed and shamed according to due processes to uphold the medical profession's integrity.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2019, with the headline 'Docs must point out major side effects'. Print Edition | Subscribe