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Made to Feel Like a Criminal

September 17, 2008

By Dr Ong Hean Teik

I GRADUATED as a medical doctor in 1983, and have been running a specialist heart clinic since 1994. I have written articles for Lancet, Journal of the American Medical Association, Singapore Medical Journal and British Medical Journal among others. I regularly lecture at meetings for doctors. I was the president of the Penang Medical Practitioners’ Society in 2000, and the chairman of the Penang branch of the Malaysian Medical Association in 1994.

I was visited on Sept 11 by four inspectors of the Penang Health Department as part of the ministry’s post-registration check. They were not interested in my publications or in the two patients who were successfully resuscitated in my clinic. Instead, they measured my doors and floor, took multiple photographs of rooms, corridor and toilet, then looked at my financial accounts and randomly picked up case notes to examine.

An officer then told me that diazepam (valium) is listed as a dangerous drug and I should be personally handing them to the patient and not just writing the prescription.

After they left, I checked with the Pharmacy Enforcement Division of the state Health Department and was told by the officer in charge that valium is not a dangerous drug but listed as a psychotropic. Furthermore, it is present policy to have it prescribed by a doctor, and dispensed by a dispenser under the doctor’s supervision.

Before the inspectors left, they took my photograph, in full view of all my staff and patients, saying they had been instructed to do so. I am left feeling like a criminal who has just been visited by the police.

I write to raise these points:

* Two ministers of health and the director-general have publicly stated that the Private Healthcare Act is not designed to penalise legitimate doctors or to harass them. Why then is the Ministry of Health sending inspectors to measure my doors and floor, and to take photographs of my consultation room and the clean, tidy toilet?

* Which section of the Healthcare Act requires that the inspectors look at my financial records, and patient case-notes? I recall that the director-general was very emphatic in press statements that case records are strictly confidential documents.

* Why is it necessary to photograph me, as the police do on arresting a criminal?

* How can an officer of the ministry be unaware that valium is not listed as a dangerous drug, but is a psychotropic?

* When will the ministry be enforcing the new regulation that valium must now be personally given to patients by the prescribing doctor? In my conversation with colleagues in private clinics and hospitals, no doctor is at present personally dispensing valium. Has such a major change been discussed with the medical societies?

* Patients had to wait as I and my staff attended to the inspectors during the whole hour they were present. Can the ministry consider doing such inspection after clinic hours, so as not to interfere with patient care, since inspection seems to be all about immobile physical structures and previous paperwork?

DR ONG HEAN TEIK

Penang

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