What is Medical Negligence?
Medical negligence is a failure of the medical practitioner to exercise an accepted standard of care in medical professional skills or knowledge, resulting in injury, damage or loss. This topic is relevant in modern times due to the evolution of technology – wherein new methods of treatment are being applied, Telemedicine is an accepted practice, and patients are also knowledgeable because of the Internet. Even with the best healthcare facilities, medical negligence can occur. In cases involving medical negligence, the patient must provide evidence of the medical practitioner’s negligence. In Singapore, medical negligence is not a crime but a kind of tort.
Medical Negligence as a tort requires more than mere lack of care. The critical inquiry was whether the doctor’s conduct fell so far short of expectations as to warrant the imposition of sanctions. The factors that are relevant to the inquire are the nature and extent of the misconduct, the gravity of the foreseeable consequences of the doctor’s failure and the public interest involved. A claimant who wishes to sue in negligence must show the following: (1) that the defendant owed him a legal duty to take care; (2) that there was a breach of his legal duty by the medical practitioner; and (3) that the same breach has caused him recoverable damage. It is a kind of tort wherein the patient is entitled to damages and compensation if the medical practitioner is adjudged to be at fault.
In a 2022 article in the Straits Times, the son of a 74-year-old woman, who died three weeks after a heart attack while she was hospitalized at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, has sued the hospital and three doctors, seeking $800,000. In 2020, the High Court awarded $5.6 Million to a family of a woman who sued the surgeon after the patient died from botched liposuction. Medical negligence cases can occur and will occur in the future notwithstanding Singapore’s ideal healthcare system.
Duties of the Medical Practitioner
The doctor treating a patient owes a duty of care to his patient to take care and act diligently in all areas which include the following:
- Accurate assessment and diagnosis;
- Timely and appropriate investigations;
- Safe and effective treatment;
- Giving information on disease and medication;
- Obtaining consent of patient throughout the relationship;
- Appropriate and timely referral
- Maintaining medical confidentiality.
Protecting your right as a victim of medical negligence
The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is a statutory body under the Ministry of Health. The SMC is the regulator of professional conduct and ethics of all registered medical practitioners. It investigates serious misconduct in the provision of case, improper conduct, breach of confidentiality, unethical behavior and criminal offenses
The SMC will conduct preliminary investigations based on the information submitted and provide options for the complainant to explore. Appeal can be made 30 days after the outcome of the complaint. Under the proceedings before the Singapore Medical Council, mediation can be conducted by referring the case to the Singapore Mediation Center. The SMC Medical Council Mediation Scheme is designed to help complainants resolve disputes with their registered medical practitioner. No settlement reached in the mediation will be binding until it has been reduced to writing and signed by or on behalf of the parties.
Since the proceedings before the SMC may take a long time, patient can file a case with the court since there is a three-year statutory limitation wherein the patient can file a case. As such, patients can also seek legal advice from lawyers in Singapore. Mediation and out-of-court settlements are options available to the parties to prevent the case from being a full-blown trial.