A quick fix to medical disputes

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 17 Nov 2013

Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan and Dr Milton Lum

PETALING JAYA: Patients and doctors can soon resolve their grievances without going to court.

A mediation bureau is being set up by the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and the Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia (MLSM) to look into the increasing number of medical disputes in the country and settle cases out of court.

“Although the bureau does not have any legal regulatory powers, it will be a faster and cheaper alternative for parties seeking an amicable solution to their medical dispute,” said Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan, president of both MMA and MLSM which represent more than 15,000 doctors and specialists.

The bureau, to be operational by Dec 1, will have a panel made up of legal advisers and healthcare experts. Those seeking redress will be charged a small administrative fee of about RM100.

“Those who seek the bureau’s help must come forward voluntarily and be sincere about wanting to solve the problem, which could be a small dispute that can be settled over a cup of tea.

“If the patient has a case, we will tell the doctor or hospital to compensate them but if their grouses have no merit, we will advise them accordingly,” he said, assuring the public that those selected to sit on the panel would not have any vested interest in the cases before them.

Dr Tharmaseelan said the recent large court awards encouraged patients to sue, resulting in some doctors giving up practice.

He said doctors can be made liable for everything from advising patients to failing to warn of risks associated with a recommended treatment to breaching the duty of care.

“Practising medicine now is like walking a tight rope over shark-infested waters. A doctor can even be liable even if a nurse wrongly counts the gauze during surgery,” he said.

According to Medical Defence Malaysia (MDM), a local court had awarded RM5.4mil to a brain-damaged child in 2011. With the interest calculated from the date of the injury, the amount due was about RM7.4mil.

MDM board member Dr Milton Lum said that based on the increase in indemnity subscriptions, there “seems to be an increase” in the number of litigations against doctors.

“The amended Medical Act, which received royal assent last year, requires all doctors to have indemnity coverage as a condition for renewal of their annual practising certificate.

“However, the amended Medical Act has yet to be enforced,” he said, adding that Health Ministry data showed an increase from 29 to 56 cases (against doctors) from 2006 to 2011.

There is no data for the private sector.

Federation of Malaysian Consu­mers Association (Fomca) secretary-general Datuk Paul Selvaraj agreed that medical cases should best be dealt with by those with professional knowledge because of the technical issues involved.

However, he said the body must be independent.

“It must include consumer representatives. The Ministry of Health must also be involved to ensure compliance by the parties seeking adjudication,” he said.

Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia president Dr Steven Chow said the increase in medical litigation is real and imminent.

He said higher patient expectation and doctor-patient communication breakdown have given rise to medical negligence cases.

“What is judicially reasonable valid consent and vicarious liability are issues that must be addressed urgently.

“Otherwise, the practice of defensive medicine will escalate and both patient and doctor will lose out,” he said.

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