Hong Kong Medical Council can be reformed before new law is enacted
Medical practitioners passionately believe in safeguarding the quality of the practice of medicine. There have been different reactions to the proposed amendment of the Medical Registration Ordinance (Cap 161).
Upholding professional autonomy should not be misinterpreted as “protectionism”. It is of paramount importance for medical professionals to act impartially when making clinical decisions in the best interests of patients.
Justice ought to be seen to be done so the handling of inquiries or any disputes should also be processed with greater efficiency. It is one of the main reasons why there have been calls to reform the Hong Kong Medical Council.
Amending the law will take time, and require substantial input from different stakeholders. But changes to the way the council handles complaints can be made before Legco eventually enacts a new law. What is required is what I would call administrative re-engineering. Currently complaints received by the council first pass to the chairman/vice chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC). However I believe technical support could be given to the chairman by a team of legal advisers with expertise in medical-legal issues as well as a basic understanding of health.
Also there would be a medical adviser with substantial clinical experience and knowledge of medical-legal issues in the team. This team would assess the merits of the case from both medical and legal perspectives and provide advice to the complainant if further information was needed.
The team would summarise important issues to help the PIC decide whether there is a prima facie case. If there is, the team would help the PIC work out a schedule on submission of further information from the complainant, responding doctor, and experts. The team would then review the whole case, summarising the complaints and the defence with assessment of facts and evidence so the PIC could decide on the next step. The Medical Council’s legal advisers would need to be more upfront than they are at present with their assessment of the legal issues.
Additional resources must be made available to the council so an independent medical adviser can be appointed to provide a technical assessment of the cases.
The council’s jurisdiction would remain the same and council members would have substantial technical assistance in case assessments. This proposal would enable speedier resolution of disputes and will be fair and just for patients and doctors.
Albert Lee, clinical professor in public health and primary care, Chinese University of Hong Kong