SINGAPORE: The use of social media and complementary and alternative medicine are some of the changes and challenges faced by the medical profession in the last decade, leading to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) updating its code and guidelines on ethics.
The SMC had formed a working committee in 2010 to review the guidelines, which were last revised in 2002, and had extensive consultation sessions with members of the medical community.
The aim of the revised 2016 guidelines is to help practitioners handle ethical issues encountered in modern medical practice.
Among the new additions is a section on the use of alternative and complementary medicine, with more people turning to such therapies like Traditional Chinese Medicine. Registered doctors who also practise this field of medicine must ensure they provide sound medical reasons to their patients should they suggest an alternative treatment.
Dr Tan Chi Chiu, chairman of the ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines Working Committee, explained: “Take for example, a patient who may have fractured a bone; under an alternative treatment philosophy, it may be acceptable to do manipulation, massage and wraps.
“But if a doctor were to practice an alternative therapy that ultimately leads to a patient having a deformity and loss of function, ultimately he's still responsible for this patient's outcome and we cannot excuse a doctor for using methods that led to deformity and loss of function on the grounds that he was also trained in alternative therapy that allowed this kind of treatment.”
The guidelines have also clearly spelled out that medical professionals should not start relationships with patients on social media sites because they may feel pressurised to engage with practitioners. Doctors are also strongly advised against engaging patients who contact them on social media.
A new section on end of life care was also added as doctors play a crucial role when helping families deal with such delicate situations. For example, the guidelines state that doctors have to respect patients' wishes if they do not wish to receive specific treatments.
In response to these updated guidelines, the Singapore Medical Association (SMA), a professional organisation representing medical practitioners, welcomed the revised guidelines.
Dr Wong Tien Hua, president of the Singapore Medical Association, noted: "The important thing is that the aims of the SMA and SMC are aligned with the needs of society at large, which is for the good of all patients.
“And this medical code and ethical guidelines are going to give more clarity to some of the issues that are currently being debated in the medical space, like advances in technology, new methods of doing things, and business practices that have come on board in the last 10 years that are changing the way healthcare is delivered in Singapore."
The updated code and guidelines will come into effect on Jan 1 next year.