Doctor's mistake led to abortion

Private hospital patient took medication and had X-rays after being wrongly told she was not pregnant when blood tests were misinterpreted

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2013, 3:12am

A private hospital doctor has been disciplined for wrongly telling a woman she was not pregnant - leading her to have an abortion after undergoing X-rays and taking medication.

Chow Kwan-lung, who did not contest the charge at a medical council disciplinary hearing yesterday, was ordered to have his name removed from the general register for two months but the order was suspended for a year.

The hearing was told that in November 2009, the 46-year-old woman was admitted to the Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital under Chow's care after having been diagnosed with an infection of the urinary tract by another doctor the day before.

Chow ordered a blood test for pregnancy after the woman told him she suspected she was having a baby because her periods had stopped. The report showed her level of beta-HCG - a hormone produced as the pregnancy progresses - was 3.092 international units (IU) per millilitre of blood. A reference range shown below the test result said that the non-pregnant level was less than 0.005 IU/mL, and the level for a pregnancy of one to 10 weeks was 0.202 to over 225.

But Chow told the woman she was not pregnant and she was discharged on December 1.

Chow said that he misinterpreted the test result as negative because, although the result was reported as IU/mL, he thought the unit was IU/L (units per litre), as used in public hospitals. The medical council found the explanation unacceptable.

"It is obvious to any person, even a layman, reading the test report that the patient was pregnant within the one to 10 weeks' range," chairwoman Professor Felice Lieh Mak said.

She said this clearly constituted professional misconduct.

The woman later had an X-ray examination although she was warned against it if she was pregnant. She also took a number of flu medications.

In January 2010, when she consulted a gynaecologist because she had not had a period for so long, she learned she was 12 weeks pregnant.

She eventually decided to terminate the pregnancy after having considered the possible adverse effect on the fetus caused by the X-ray examination and the pills she had taken.

The council emphasised that a doctor must read and interpret test reports with proper care, but also urged authorities to ensure that test reports were presented in a clear and logical manner to avoid confusion to doctors.