Medical reform bill won’t lead to better service, just more frustration for doctors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 2016, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 July, 2016, 10:39pm

The Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill currently before legislators aims to allow the government to appoint more members to the Medical Council. The bill will eventually fail to satisfy the public.

There is an unrealistic public expectation for medical service to be prompt and perfect. Diane Shannon, MD, recently found that 30 per cent of primary physicians in the US between 35 and 39 years old planned to leave practice within five years because of frustration and burnout. Martin Samuels, MD, examined medical mistakes in the US and came to the conclusion that all doctors will do their best to avoid errors, but none will succeed because “medicine is a very complex field and errors will continuously be made”. Lay people appointed to the Medical Council do not have the background knowledge or attitude to understand this.

Not only is medical service complex, but there is also continuous advances being made in all subspecialties. The pace of such advances always exceeds the ability of the doctors to keep up. There will always be times when a doctor applies new knowledge and new skills. The Medical Council requires all doctors to undertake continuing education for at least 30 hours a year. This is well below the intensity required for full updating. Even doctors in full-time academic fields cannot be fully up-to-date in all areas.

Those who demand perfection in the medical service are being unrealistic. The doctors sitting in the judging panels examining where doctors go wrong and how they should be punished merely exhibit an impractical holier-than-thou attitude. The current amendment bill may add appointed members to the Medical Council, but it will not significantly improve the standard of medical service to Hong Kong. Instead, it will add frustration for doctors.

Dr K. C. Lam, Central