The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has revived a case it had previously dismissed with a letter of advice, and suspended plastic surgeon Leo Kah Woon for three months.
Now in private practice, Dr Leo, 44, used his position as a doctor at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 2012 to access information in the hospital's database on a man he suspected was having an affair with his wife, as well as information on the man's wife. He then alerted the man's wife to the suspected affair.
The man complained to the SMC, which decided no formal inquiry was needed, but sent a letter of advice to Dr Leo in 2014.
After that, however, Dr Leo was found guilty by the courts in 2017, and fined $13,000 on two charges: for unlawfully accessing data at SGH, and for installing a spyware program on his laptop to intercept data belonging to his wife.
Following the court judgment in February 2017, the SMC sent the case to a disciplinary tribunal.
The tribunal found him guilty in December last year, and suspended him for three months, in a decision released this week.
The SMC had asked for a suspension of at least six to eight months. It argued: "The breach is even more egregious as it relates to a restructured hospital containing millions of patient medical records."
Dr Leo's lawyer argued that a $10,000 fine would be enough as there "was little impact on the standing of the medical profession", alluding to the SMC's earlier dismissal of the complaint.
But the tribunal said the SMC's Complaints Committee's decision then that no inquiry was needed "might have been the result of the limited context" of the complaint.
The tribunal noted, however, that "no actual medical records were accessed" and "there was no profit motive" and concluded there was no clear evidence of dishonesty, though the lack of integrity was clearly displayed "to a somewhat appalling extent".
The tribunal said in its grounds of decision: "While we do not expect all doctors to be the epitome of virtue, we should expect the conduct of doctors, professionally and privately, to exceed the standards expected of ordinary citizens."
It also agreed with the SMC that the cyber attack on the SingHealth database that made the headlines last year, in which the personal particulars of 1.5 million patients were stolen, was "a timely reminder to everyone to treat cyber security with the utmost seriousness".
The tribunal decided that a suspension was called for, but not for the six to eight months that the SMC suggested.
Aside from being suspended for three months, Dr Leo was censured and has to give a written undertaking not to repeat the offence. He also has to pay the cost of the proceedings. He had asked that the grounds of decision not be published, but this was not granted.