MEDICAL practitioners are highly respected professionals who work tirelessly to save lives and provide treatment to the sick. However, doctors are humans too and can make mistakes.
Any error of judgment or negligence on their part can lead to them being slapped with a costly malpractice suit. This is why doctors are repeatedly reminded to secure medical practitioners indemnity to protect themselves in the event they face claims due to negligence or breach of duty.
In fact, under last year's amendments to the Medical Act 2012 and the Medical Regulations 2017, doctors must have professional indemnity insurance and attend continuing education courses to upgrade their skills before they can renew their annual practising certificates.
The professional indemnity insurance would be made compulsory for medical practitioners effective Jan 1, 2019.
According to insurance broker, consultant and service provider Jardine Lloyd Thompson managing director Ali Chaudhry, the cost of medical care and risk factors with regard to medical errors was rising.
"As people now have more information on their rights as patients, more patients are taking legal action against doctors for negligence. Hence, there is a need for all doctors, especially specialists, to have indemnity insurance," he told Bernama, when met at the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) Annual General Meeting, here recently.
Some doctors unaware of medico legal suits
Chaudhry said since obstetric and gynaecology specialists faced a higher risk of medical negligence, premiums would be higher for them.
"The highest recorded claims paid out in the O&G field ranged from RM5 million to RM6 million,” said Chaudhry who has been in the insurance industry for 30 years.
Asked if it was challenging to get medical practitioners to purchase indemnity insurance, which could be costly, he admitted it was not easy to convince them to get a policy.
He said while government doctors were automatically protected, those in the private sector have to buy their own professional indemnity insurance.
According to Chaudhry, there have been cases of doctors who were unaware that medical negligence suits have been filed against them.
They discovered they were being sued a few years later or even after 10 years when the cases appeared in court.
"Some of these cases can take years to settle while some are over and done with in a matter of months, depending on the severity of the suit," he added.
Former MMA president Dr Ravindran Naidu, when contacted, said it was necessary for every doctor to have indemnity insurance as it protected both the patient and doctor.
Asked if the premiums for medical indemnity can be made more affordable, he said MMA was trying to negotiate with medical practitioners indemnity brokers to get the best price for doctors.
“Once it becomes compulsory for all doctors to have medical indemnity (Jan 1 next year), there is no way out and all doctors must be protected,” he said.
A check with some insurance providers' websites showed that the annual premiums for medical practitioners indemnity schemes for general practitioners range from about RM1,000 to RM3,000; specialists handling low-risk cases, about RM1,600 to RM5,100; medium-risk, about RM3,200 to RM10,200; and high-risk, about RM11,000 up to RM48,000.
Negligence due to technology glitch
Former Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia (MLSM) president Datuk Dr NKS Tharmaseelan has said previously that some doctors have gone bankrupt after being sued and forced to settle huge claims.
He also said that many doctors have given up their medical practice due to the stress that came along with the legal suits, which ultimately also affected their reputation and social standing.
Chaudhry, meanwhile, said the evolvement of medical technology could reduce potential risks of negligence and errors but such advancements could also have catastrophic consequences in the event an equipment malfunctioned.
“In the future, everything in the medical sector will go electronic. For instance, hospitals will have an electronic alarm to monitor patients in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). So, you will get a human (doctor) backed up by technology, but what happens when it (the technology) suddenly fails?"
He added that there was a need to address the type of indemnity required to help protect medical practitioners in the event of medical negligence due to a technology glitch. - Bernama