The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal has recently suspended a doctor after he failed to inform a patient of his cancer diagnosis. The patient passed away before the Tribunal could assess the charges against the doctor.

The patient came to see a doctor about a suspicious mole he had on his back. After seeing the doctor, an appointment was arranged to immediately remove the mole for the patient. The mole was sent to a lab for histology.

The following week the doctor received the patient’s histology report. The report advised that the patient had primary melanoma and recommended “wider excision”. The doctor failed to inform the patient or consult him about the histology report.

A week later the patient returned to have his wound re-dressed. After learning that the patient had not been notified of his histology report the nurse organised an appointment for the patient to see the doctor that same day. The doctor advised the patient that the mole was not cancerous.

Around five months later the patient returned to the doctor with a lump that had become sore. An assessment of the lump by the hospital concluded that the lump was cancerous and that the patient had metastatic melanoma.

The Tribunal had to determine whether the doctor’s failures amounted to professional misconduct. The Tribunal decided that the doctor had failed to contact the patient and advise him of the histology report. The following month the doctor had again failed to inform the patient of his cancer diagnosis or refer the patient to a specialist.

The doctor also failed to communicate to the patient that he had an “advanced aggressive form of melanoma cancer”, and made further failures in setting up a treatment plan.

Evidence provided to the Tribunal found that even if appropriate actions had been taken, the patient’s death may still have not been avoided. However, the Tribunal decided that the doctor had failed to follow widespread best practice guidelines, and his failures meant the patient had no knowledge of his “potential life-threatening cancer”.

The Tribunal decided that these failures amounted to professional misconduct.

The doctor was censured and suspended for three months. The Tribunal also ordered that if the doctor return to practice, conditions be in place for three years. The doctor was fined $5,000 and ordered to pay costs of $26,000. 

It is important to be aware of your professional obligations as a health practitioner. If you are confused about your obligations, it is very important to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.

 

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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors