Doctor suspended for improperly treating baby

She failed to diagnose boy with life-threatening disease and also did not alert his parents

A paediatrician has been suspended for three months for professional misconduct after she failed to properly diagnose and treat a child for Kawasaki disease.

The failure in diagnosis could have prevented treatment and resulted in the boy developing serious heart issues, said the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in a statement yesterday.

The incident happened in 2013, when the one-year-old was admitted to Gleneagles Hospital on Feb 25 with high fever and red eyes, among other symptoms.

Dr Chia Foong Lin, now 56, who practises at Chia Baby and Child Clinic but was on call for the hospital that night, diagnosed him as having a viral infection.

She reviewed the boy's condition several times between Feb 25 and March 3 - both at the hospital and at her clinic after he was discharged. During that time, she had considered Kawasaki disease but ultimately dismissed the possibility in favour of her first diagnosis.

It was only after the boy's parents took him to another hospital on March 4 for a second opinion - three days after he was discharged from Gleneagles - that he was definitively diagnosed with it.

Kawasaki disease is characterised by inflammation of the blood vessels and typically affects children under four. Heart issues develop in up to a fifth of children, and may lead to heart disease or sudden death.

The SMC's disciplinary tribunal noted that while diagnosing the disease "can be challenging", Dr Chia had not carried out tests that would have helped to either confirm it or rule it out.

She also did not bring up the matter with the boy's parents, so that they could have made an informed treatment choice.

The SMC said: "Instead, she was content to continue managing the patient for viral fever when the clinical features clearly did not point to a simple case of viral infection. In view of the patient's symptoms and the significant risks of adverse and severe consequences resulting from a delayed or missed diagnosis of Kawasaki disease, it would be reasonably expected of Dr Chia to order such tests during the course of the patient's hospitalisation."

But the tribunal took into consideration that Dr Chia had a clean record, testimonials attesting to her good character, and that she had not intentionally departed from established standards.

Dr Chia appealed against the sentence. But this was dismissed as the tribunal felt that a suspension was necessary to maintain the highest professional standards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'Doctor suspended for improperly treating baby'. Print Edition | Subscribe