Misstep or malpractice: When does a doctor’s actions constitute professional misconduct? Singapore Medical Council v Dr Lim Lian Arn [2019] SGHC 172

Doctors are expected to uphold high standards when dispensing medical treatment to patients. However, not every misstep by a medical practitioner amounts to professional misconduct. Where a doctor does depart from acceptable standards of conduct, disciplinary action is warranted only where such departure is egregious. As highlighted in Singapore Medical Council v Dr Lim Lian Arn [2019] SGHC 172, the law seeks to strike a balance between (a) ensuring that serious misconduct and failings are duly censured, and (b) guarding against over-penalisation of doctors.  

Guarding Against Defensive Medicine: Singapore Medical Council v Dr Soo Shuenn Chiang [2019] SGHC 250

In Singapore Medical Council v Dr Soo Shuenn Chiang [2019] SGHC 250, psychiatrist Dr Soo Shuenn Chiang received a call regarding a patient (“Complainant”) from someone he thought was the Complainant’s husband. The caller informed Dr Soo that the patient was suicidal and needed to be brought to the Institute of Mental Health for an urgent assessment of her suicide risk. Dr Soo then wrote a memorandum (“Memorandum”), with pertinent information about the Complainant’s medical history, to be used by the police and ambulance staff. Dr Soo left the Memorandum with his clinic staff, with instructions that it should be handed to the Husband. However, unknown to Dr Soo, it was the Complainant’s brother who collected the Memorandum. The Complainant lodged a complaint with the SMC, and Dr Soo was subsequently found guilty of professional misconduct under section 53(1)(d) of the Medical Registration Act (Cap 174, 2014 Rev Ed). On appeal, the High Court ("HC") set aside the conviction. In its ruling, the HC clarified when a doctor may disclose a patient's confidential medical information without the patient's consent, and also that doctors are under a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that the information is not mishandled or released negligently to unauthorised persons.