The NSW Medical Council has guidelines in place for registered medical practitioners in relation to treating themselves and family members (updated 2 December 2014). The Guidelines follow the Code of Conduct published by the National Medical Board of Australia and provide that medical practitioners should not treat themselves and members of their family, unless in the case of necessity or emergency, because:
- Professional objectivity and clinical judgment may be compromised by the nature of their relationship with the patient;
- Medical practitioners may fail to explore sensitive areas when taking a medical history or may fail to perform an appropriate physical examination;
- The patient may feel uncomfortable disclosing sensitive information or undergoing a physical examination when the medical practitioner is a family member;
- Patient autonomy may be compromised when a medical practitioner treats a member of their family;
- The principles of informed consent may not be adhered to when a medical practitioner treats a member of their family.
The Guidelines contain the following general principles:
- All medical practitioners should have their own independent General Practitioner.
- Medical practitioners should not initiate treatment (including prescribing medication) for themselves or members of their family.
- In emergency situations or isolated settings where there is no help available, medical practitioners may treat themselves or members of their family until another medical practitioner becomes available.
- Medical practitioners should not serve as primary or regular care providers for members of their family, although there are circumstances in which they may work together with an independent medical practitioner to maintain established treatment.
- Medical practitioners should not issue medical certificates for themselves or members of their family.
- Medical practitioners should not issue death certificates or cremation documents for members of their family.
The Guidelines are designed to protect patients. For instance if a general practitioner self-diagnosed themselves with depression and simply prescribed anti-depressant medication for themselves without obtaining assistance from a psychologist, their condition may last longer, get more severe and eventually impact on their ability to treat their patients properly and lead to life threatening mistakes.
Medical practitioners can be prosecuted by the Health Care Complaints Commission (“HCCC”) for self-prescribing and treating family members. Many practitioners who have infringed the policy by treating themselves or family members have been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct resulting in conditions imposed on their registrations or periods of suspension.
In addition to disciplinary proceedings if a patient has been adversely impacted by the medical practitioners’ conduct, they may have rights to pursue compensation in a Civil Court.
If you or someone you know have been negatively impacted by a medical practitioner engaging in this conduct, speak to the Health Law Team at The Law Office of Conrad Curry by booking an appointment online or give us a call on (02) 4050 0330.