SINGAPORE: A traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner has been suspended for six months and ordered to pay costs after causing burn injuries to a patient in 2017.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board said on Tuesday (Mar 23) that Madam Yong Rong Mei "had failed to exercise reasonable care and precautions" while administering fire cupping treatment and had caused burns to the patient's left calf.
Mdm Yong, who is a registered TCM practitioner with the Board, was practising at Nanyang TCM Clinic, located in Bukit Timah Plaza.
On Oct 3, 2017, the patient consulted Mdm Yong for a sprained left ankle. After examining the ankle, Mdm Yong proceeded to perform TCM fire cupping treatment along the patient’s left calf and ankle area.
According to the Board, the treatment involves heating the air in a glass or bamboo cup to create a partial vacuum, before being placed over the target area to achieve a "therapeutic effect".
The cupping procedure was repeated three times during the treatment, with the last episode resulting in an "intense sharp pain" on the patient’s calf, the Board said in a press release.
When the cup was removed, the patient's ankle area was found to be red and blistering.
"To treat the blisters, Mdm Yong applied some Chinese medicated oil on the affected area. She also told the complainant that minor rashes and blisters were common occurrences in TCM fire cupping treatments," said the Board.
When the pain continued to linger, the patient sought further medical treatment at an A&E department on the same day, where she was diagnosed with second-degree burns.
A complaint with statutory declaration was filed against Mdm Yong on Mar 21, 2018.
The Board convened an inquiry committee to investigate the complaint after reviewing Mdm Yong's written explanations.
The committee found that Mdm Yong had adequately informed the complainant of the benefits and risks of TCM fire cupping treatment before the signing of the consent form to receive treatment.
However, she was found to have caused the patient to sustain burn injuries by failing to provide appropriate care and exercise safeguards to prevent the risk of burn injuries to the patient.
Mdm Yong was found guilty of professional negligence, and had also breached the Board's Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines for TCM practitioners.
In determining her sanctions, the Board took into consideration the severity of the burn injuries and Mdm Yong's conduct at the time, as well as any mitigating circumstances.
"Mdm Yong was not mindful that heating up the same glass cup with fire after each cupping movement had caused the cup to be overheated," said the Board.
"Consequently, the cumulative heat inside the cup and on the rim of the cup caused burn injuries to her patient.
"Mdm Yong also failed to carefully monitor the complainant’s skin colour and condition after each cupping movement before administering further cupping. She did not take adequate precautions to avert serious burn injuries to her patient."
The Board considered the mitigating factor that Mdm Yong had "demonstrated good intentions" in caring for the patient after the burn incident. She had procured additional burn medications from the pharmacy for the patient, and did not collect any payment for the treatment.
Mdm Yong's TCM registration has been suspended for six months, and she was censured by the Board. She was also ordered to pay for the costs and expenses of the inquiry conducted, as well as action taken against her.
FIVE REPORTED CASES OF BURN INJURIES IN FIVE YEARS
The Board said that patient safety is of "paramount importance" in all TCM treatments.
It urged all registered TCM practitioners to participate in Continual Professional Education and to exercise due care and precautions in administrating heat therapies to prevent burning patients.
The Board also said that it was "deeply concerned" with repeated occurrences of burn injury cases due to professional negligence.
"Over the last five years (from 2016 to 2020), there were five reported cases of burn injury caused to patients and these were attributed mainly to TCM acupuncture treatment involving TCM cupping and moxibustion," it said.
"A lack of awareness of the required professional standards is not an excuse and a departure from the standard of care reasonably expected of a TCM practitioner.
"Disciplinary actions will be taken against errant TCM practitioners for professional misconduct and negligence to protect the interests of all patients."
The Board has also rolled out mandatory continuing TCM education last year for all registered TCM practitioners to raise the standard and safety of TCM practice in Singapore.