Doctors shouldn't dismiss rare side effects

According to Ministry of Health guidelines, the drugs, including Dormicum, Librax and Valium, should not be prescribed for long-term use as they are addictive.
According to Ministry of Health guidelines, the drugs, including Dormicum, Librax and Valium, should not be prescribed for long-term use as they are addictive. PHOTO: ST FILE

In ruling on the case of Dr Lim Lian Arn, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said a doctor is not under a duty to convey to his patient every conceivable risk (Decision to set aside doc's conviction, fine cheered, July 26).

This may be reassuring for practitioners, but not so for patients.

Just because a procedure is commonly administered and has rare and transient side effects does not mean doctors can assume that every patient will not be affected.

Professor Francis Seow-Choen told The Straits Times that going into every single side effect might scare off patients who do not understand that some of them are rare. He used the analogy of "telling people who go for a haircut that they might die because the barber might puncture their arteries". If the barber punctures your arteries, it is not a side effect, it is sheer carelessness and incompetence.

I was once supposed to be given a steroid injection in my foot for arthritis, and was given a pamphlet detailing possible side effects. They included intense pain for several days and a severe allergic reaction. If affected, I was to proceed to the Accident and Emergency Department.

Alarmed, I asked the nurse if she knew of any patient who had been affected by side effects. She told me that her mother had been in excruciating pain for many days.

When the doctor came to administer the injection, I asked about the side effects and he airily dismissed my concerns.

I ended up rejecting the injection as I live alone and would not be able to reach my front door were I to be afflicted with extreme pain in my foot.

Doctors should not get complacent and assume that because many patients undergo common procedures without incident, they can take side effects lightly.

They should be conscientious and have the well-being of patients at heart.

Lim Siat Foong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2019, with the headline 'Doctors shouldn't dismiss rare side effects'. Print Edition | Subscribe