Does Chinese law restrict doctors from helping outside their clinics? Man's fake rumour triggers heated debate

Providing emergency help in good faith cannot be cause for malpractice lawsuit, experts say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 6:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 2:50am

A medical worker in Henan has been arrested for spreading a rumour - which caused an uproar online - that a doctor had been convicted after a baby she helped deliver on a train had developed complications.

To make a point about weaknesses in laws regulating doctors, the man fabricated news that an obstetrician, "Li Qian", had been charged with practicing medicine illegally because she delivered the baby on a train and not at her registered place of work.

The man even posted details about "Li", saying she was from the No 3 Hospital affiliated with Peking University and that the incident happened last month.

He quoted police in Nanjing as saying that Li responded to a train station's alert over the public-address system that a passenger was in labour.

I have never heard of a case where someone sued a doctor who offered to help
Chen Zhihua, medical lawyer, Beijing

In the man's vivid account, Li then brought the mother and newborn to a hospital in Nanjing, where the baby was diagnosed with pneumonia, and the family sued the doctor for malpractice.

After the fake news went viral online, doctors expressed outrage at the fictional judge's comment that doctors helping patients beyond their registered clinics or hospitals were deemed to be practising illegally.

Mainland law requires doctors to practice only at the address where they are registered. They are usually allowed one address, but some cities have allowed two or three.

The lie unravelled when the Peking University hospital and the named court issued separate statements, saying neither the obstetrician nor the case existed.

The court filed a complaint, prompting the Nanjing and Henan police to track down the man. It is not clear what penalties he faces.

Lawyers said doctors responding to emergencies outside their places of work were exempted from liability.

Liu Ye, a medical lawyer at the Shanghai Haishang Law Firm, said a doctor's actions in such an emergency did not constitute "practicing medicine" but "saving people". "It is an act of a Good Samaritan. It has nothing to do with practising medicine."

A doctor would be liable only if it was proven he deliberately caused harm and made serious mistakes in treatment, Liu said.

Beijing medical lawyer Chen Zhihua said doctors were not obliged to respond to medical emergencies on public transport, but if they did, they were not liable even if there were complications, so long as they did not act deliberately to cause harm.

"I have never heard of a single case in my research [where someone] sued a doctor who offered to help in such emergencies," Chen said.