Doctor fined $10k over error in cancer patient's health report

Health screenings are supposed to give the patient a head start in tackling any health problems that arise. But a patient whose laboratory results showed that the cancer markers were high and "abnormal" was told by the doctor that his results were good.

Twenty months later, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

His doctor, Dr Fernandes Mark Lee, was censured and ordered to pay a fine of $10,000, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) said in a statement yesterday. The inquiry was held in March.

Dr Fernandes had pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to exercise due care in managing the patient, said the grounds of decision released by the disciplinary tribunal in April. He had been charged with failing to accurately communicate test results of the patient's health screening.

Dr Fernandes was also ordered to give a written undertaking to the SMC stating he will not engage in similar conduct, and to foot the costs of the proceedings, including costs of the SMC solicitors.

At the time, Dr Fernandes, who has 10 years of experience, was a gastroenterologist with Asia HealthPartners at Lucky Plaza.

On Feb 9, 2012, the patient went there for a health screening and was later told over the phone that his results were good and a review with a doctor was unnecessary.

The report, which the patient also received in the mail, was prepared and signed off by Dr Fernandes.

However, 20 months later, another doctor diagnosed the patient with colorectal cancer and he underwent surgery and six months of chemotherapy.

Upon closer reading of the medical report, it was discovered that Dr Fernandes had erroneously stated in its summary page that the patient's cancer markers were normal when, in fact, the laboratory results attached showed that the cancer markers were high and "abnormal".

Also, no arrangement was made to explain the results in greater detail and to advise on the appropriate follow-up treatment.

In Dr Fernandes' written explanation to the SMC's complaints committee, he admitted to overlooking the carcinoembryonic antigen readings that indicated that the patient's cancer markers were not normal.

The patient made a complaint against him in a letter addressed to the SMC in June 2014.

The disciplinary tribunal said in the grounds of decision: "As a result of the error in the respondent's (Dr Fernandes') report and the lack of a detailed, in-person review of the results with the patient, the patient lost the opportunity to take earlier appropriate follow-up action."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'Doctor fined $10k over error in cancer patient's health report'. Print Edition | Subscribe