In Korea, two physicians are hauled to court daily for professional negligence. The number exceeds the annual number of cases in which British doctors are charged with professional negligence.
In the United Kingdom, seven doctors were prosecuted with and convicted of professional negligence between 2013 and 2018. Four were found responsible. 128 cases were terminated at the investigative stage by the police or prosecution rather than being prosecuted. According to the Research Institute for Healthcare Policy, 670 Korean physicians were found guilty of professional negligence during the same time frame.
Park Hyun-mi, a professor of medical education at Korea University College of Medicine, ascribed the disparity to the U.K.’s institutional structures and social perceptions regarding medical malpractices and disputes. Professor Park underlined during a lecture on medical ethics on Monday that Korea must also alter its perceptions and enhance its processes.
In 2002, Park earned a medical degree from the University of Birmingham/Brighton & Sussex and worked as a surgeon at the University of Nottingham Hospital. She also led the British group of Korean physicians. Disputes prevention system in and out of the hospital with an emphasis on recurrence prevention rather than accusation.
As per Korea Biomedical Review, the United Kingdom provides counseling services in each hospital under the name “Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).” It accepts complaints and challenges that patients and guardians encounter when utilizing medical services. This prevents medical disputes caused by a lack of communication or friction between patients, their guardians, medical facilities, and their employees.
The coroner system, which deals with autopsy processes, also varies greatly. In the United Kingdom, the state appoints a coroner to oversee autopsies. It will be handled by a lawyer or a prosecutor-turned-legal. Except for cancer patients in stages three or four or those receiving palliative care, the coroner determines whether to conduct an autopsy and subsequently conduct a funeral procedure. No exceptions exist, including fatalities outside the hospital and the death of a patient with a surgical history.
Park mentioned the 2014 death of deceased musician Shin Hae-cheol due to medical misconduct. “It is inconceivable in the United Kingdom for family members and friends to request an autopsy during the funeral process” (despite suspicions of medical malpractice). She stated that in the United Kingdom, state-designated coroners make all decisions regarding autopsies. Such a system has a significant impact.
In addition, the professor noted the absence of an institution or system comparable to the General Medical Council (GMC), an agency that manages medical licensure.
For violations of medical ethics, the GMC suspends or revokes a doctor’s license. On average, more than 150 individuals receive such disciplinary action. GMC’s disciplinary measures are distinct from legal actions. Instead, it focuses on instances of unethical conduct in the medical area and the private sector.
Professor Park also emphasized the necessity to build a hospital culture that focuses on preventing recurrence and preparing follow-up measures rather than criticizing doctors’ mistakes, saying that coworkers, patients, and their guardians must be able to comprehend medical errors.
“Doctors who discover their errors throughout the treatment process contact the medical staff, patients, and guardians immediately. Then, they specify which procedure was flawed and describe corrective measures. The medical staff then discusses recurrence prevention,” she stated.
Park continued, “Because medical experts are also human, mistakes are possible.” Therefore, it is crucial to consider how to proceed. The emphasis should be on what may be learned from correcting, sharing, and resolving errors.”
It is also vital to accept “honest mistakes” made by medical personnel despite their best efforts. For instance, the British judiciary “recognized” an honest error by medical personnel accused with manslaughter in the death of a 6-year-old patient. Additionally, it reinstated the doctor’s license, which had been revoked.
To distinguish between honest mistakes and breaches of the duty of care, medical counsel is sought. Eight to ten medical specialists whose patients have died are provided with a case, and their comments are collected. In the doctor’s eyes, this technology “clears the line between mistake and murder and safeguards medical professionals.”
Park emphasized that Korea should also define the basis for sanctioning doctors’ actions. She stated that mistrust of patients and guardians would increase if punishments were not administered appropriately based on vague norms.
“Korea is currently headed in the opposite direction. Doctors who fought to save patients till the very last are arrested, not those who deserve punishment. “As a result, patients do not trust physicians, believing that their licenses will be reinstated even if they commit an error,” she said.
Park stated that this does not imply that doctors are never imprisoned in the United Kingdom, regardless of their actions, and emphasized the necessity to distinguish between an honest error and an evident one. She stated, “Accusing and penalizing doctors who make mistakes does not inevitably result in a safer healthcare system.” “Unconditional prosecution inevitably results in patient harm.”