Encourage, not deter, good medical practice

The director of the Neuroscience Clinic at the National University Hospital was fined $50,000 for breaching medical confidentiality.
The director of the Neuroscience Clinic at the National University Hospital was fined $50,000 for breaching medical confidentiality.PHOTO: ST FILE

Several points about the recent case of a doctor being fined for sharing patient's information deserve highlighting (NUH doc fined for sharing patient's info, March 7).

The doctor was primarily fined for not observing rules of patient confidentiality.

However, this patient has various psychiatric conditions that make her vulnerable and expose her to risks of self-harm.

It is likely that her close family members are already aware of her condition, so that they may supervise and provide care for her.

In such a scenario, it is not unexpected that, when confronted by an urgent call claiming that the patient was "suicidal", any good responsible doctor would be prompted to first think about patient safety and the impending harm that might occur to the patient if there be any delay in action.

Whether it is the brother or husband who called, they are both immediate family members.

The doctor may have committed the mistake of not thinking about the patient's confidentiality first.

But there was no ill intention when he wrote the memo to provide the requested information.

He was in fact conned into giving up patient information by someone taking advantage of his concern for the patient's safety and well-being.

Surely this should not be seen as a lack of competency, a violation and breach of professional ethics and protocol and, worse still, serious negligence and abuse of privileges.

Unfortunately, the use of such words in the charge against the doctor has intentionally or unintentionally painted a very negative picture about him.

Indisputably, the protection of privacy and confidentiality is necessary and important. But one cannot overly fault the doctor for thinking about and acting upon his patient's safety as the prime concern.

I urge the Singapore Medical Council to be cautious in its efforts to uphold professional ethics and conduct and in its decisions to mete out penalties.

The bottom line should be to encourage and not discourage good medical practice.

Ho Ting Fei (Dr)