Know your rights: Don't be a victim of medical negligence

Know your rights: Don't be a victim of medical negligence
16 Dec 2020

In October 2020, the Singapore parliament passed the Civil Law (Amendment) Bill, which stipulates the duty of doctors in the provision of care. Doctors must tell their patients what they reasonably require to know to make an informed decision on what treatments, medicines, and remedies they can adopt vis-a-vis the health condition they are experiencing. On top of that, the law requires doctors to answer any questions posed by the patients, no matter how small.

The Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill was also passed to strengthen the disciplinary process for doctors.

These amendments aim to address medical negligence, also known as medical malpractice. It refers to the event where medical professionals fail to uphold accepted standards of care when exercising professional skills and knowledge, and as a result, causing injury, damage or death.

These laws make it clear to doctors what is required of them legally within their profession so that they can follow through without fearing litigation or resorting to defensive medicine to reduce the “threat of malpractice liability”. With that, patients themselves need to be aware of their rights. Being well-informed of what is expected in the provision of care at the onset can prevent incidents of malpractice and the rising healthcare costs as a result.

Rights as a patient

1. Right to all information

As the amended laws make clear, patients have the right to all information about their health condition. If you are the patient, delivery of the information and material should be made available to you in a language you are comfortable in. These include (but not limited to):

  • Medical diagnosis
  • Treatment options
  • Possible outcomes of treatment
  • Risks & side-effects
  • Alternative treatments

The doctor is not allowed to withhold information just because family members ask him to, or because there is a fear that the patient will refuse treatment.

2. Right to make decisions

As long as you are mentally fit, you have the right to decide for your own medical care. You are involved in the entire decision-making process, which among others, include:

  • Clarifying treatments with doctors
  • Asking questions wherever required
  • Seeking a second medical opinion
  • Refusing treatment and being responsible for the consequences
  • Giving consent to all routine and non-routine treatments

3. Right to privacy & confidentiality

The legal basis of medical privacy and confidentiality lies in public interest. Patients and the public must have trust in the healthcare system so that they can seek treatment for illness without fear. Following that, patients have the right to privacy and confidentiality in the areas concerning:

  • Information privacy: Medical information must be kept confidential and accessed by those involved in your treatment and (when required) by the law.
  • Physical privacy: Physical medical examinations and procedures must be conducted in ways and places that preserve your privacy.
  • Decisional privacy: You must be provided sufficient time, place and persons to consult - without any coercion or constraints - when making medical decisions for your health.

What to do when you experience possible medical negligence

In the event you find that you could be a possible victim of medical negligence, you can consider the following options:

1. File a formal complaint with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC)

A statutory body under the Ministry of Health, the SMC is the regulator of professional conduct and ethics of all registered medical practitioners, excluding those specialising in Traditional Chinese Medicine, nurses, hospitals or other allied health professionals. It investigates:

  • Serious misconduct in the provision of care, such as misdiagnosis or mis-prescription
  • Improper conduct, such as having sexual relationships with patients
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Unethical behaviour, such as over-prescription without any medical grounds
  • Criminal offences, such as molestation or rape

Medical negligence covers the first four points stated above. Upon filing your complaint, the SMC will conduct preliminary investigations based on information submitted and provide options for the complainant to explore. Appeals can be made 30 days after the outcome of your complaint.

The Complaints Committee may also recommend additional recommendations, which includes:

  • Mediation: At no additional costs to the complainant, the SMC can refer the case to the Singapore Mediation Centre.
  • Formal inquiry: Should the SMC find that a formal inquiry is necessary to investigate further, the case will be brought before a disciplinary proceeding.
  • Health inquiry: The SMC will bring the case before a Health Committee if it is of the view that the health of the medical professional in question must be examined.

2. Seek legal advice from a lawyer

If you are unclear of what is to be done in a potential case of medical negligence, you can reach out to a lawyer who will be able to guide you through the options you have available in Singapore. Some of these would include arbitration, mediation and other non-confrontational methods. If matters escalate or other options are not suitable, the case then goes to trial.

Speak to our team of lawyers in Singapore specialising in medical negligence for legal advice today.

For further information, please contact our Business Development Manager, Ricky Soetikno, at [email protected].

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