The 3,200 traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners here will need to keep upgrading their knowledge throughout their careers - just as mainstream doctors are required to do - if the laws are amended to make it mandatory.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) would like to make continuing professional education (CPE) compulsory for those in the sector, as part of several changes to bring it in line with what is being done with other healthcare professionals, such as pharmacists and dentists.
It also wants, for instance, to sharply raise the maximum fine that the TCM Practitioners Board can impose on errant practitioners and give it powers to examine if someone is fit to practise.
Practitioners and the public have until May 3 to send in their feedback on the proposed changes.
The ministry said yesterday that since the TCM Practitioners Act was passed in 2000, the board has "progressively put in place programmes and frameworks to raise the professional standards" here. However, it is now timely to review the Act so that it remains relevant to the practice.
The number of TCM practitioners has grown by a third in the past decade, and practices like acupuncture are used in public hospitals.
MOH has proposed changes in three broad areas.
The first is to enhance the TCM Practitioners Board's powers to investigate and discipline those it regulates. As part of this, the maximum fine that the board can impose on practitioners found guilty of professional misconduct will be raised from $10,000 to $50,000. This brings it in line with the boards for dental, pharmaceutical and allied healthcare, which can levy fines of up to $50,000.
The board continues to have the power to suspend or cancel the registration of errant practitioners. Last year, it suspended two practitioners for three months and six months, respectively. This power will not change.
Apart from the board's investigation committees, the Act could also be amended to provide for a complaints review committee.
It has been proposed that the Act specify the maximum time allowed for the two committees to finish their investigations. Based on other healthcare Acts, these committees should complete their work within three months, but they can ask for an extension if a case is complex.
The second proposed change is to allow the board to look into whether a practitioner is fit to practise. If he is not, he could be temporarily suspended for up to 18 months "if it is necessary for the protection of members of the public" or in the practitioner's own interest.
Lastly, the ministry wants to make CPE compulsory. While the scheme is available now, not everyone takes it up. Once amended, practitioners will have to acquire 50 points over a two-year period. For example, one hour as a speaker or an instructor would give the practitioner two CPE points.
Mr William Peh, a TCM practitioner of six years, is all for pursuing CPE. He has been fulfilling the current recommendation of 25 CPE points per year. "I am a full-time physician, and I want to upgrade myself," he said.
Getting 50 points over two years will not be a problem, he said, as there are many courses available. Mr Peh added that the board also accepts self-declaration of attendance at overseas conferences.
Miss Caryn Peh, managing director of group clinic services at Eu Yan Sang International, which runs more than 20 TCM clinics here, said: "Elevating standards is the way to move the industry forward and ensure it remains relevant.
"It is timely as the expectations of patients are rising because they are now more aware, educated and receptive of TCM treatments and products."