Consent forms and professional misconduct

In Medical Board of Australia v Adams [2017] VCAT 796, perhaps unsurprisingly, the medical practitioner conceded that his submission of some 37 consent forms (purportedly signed by the patients but in fact not signed by them) constituted professional misconduct (at [23]).

The Tribunal commented:

  1. Firstly, it is a clear breach of the criminal law.  Dr Adams was dealt with in the Magistrates Court on charges of falsifying a document, a charge which carries a maximum level of imprisonment of 10 years.  He was placed on a diversion.  This means that there was no finding by the Magistrates Court of guilt.  Even so, he has admitted that fraudulent conduct.  Any member of the community who forges another person’s signature on a document commits a very serious offence.  When that person is in a doctor-patient relationship, it is our view that the offence is magnified in seriousness.
  2. Secondly, in forging the signature of the patient, he has effectively taken away the patients ability to exercise an informed consent to the operation.  This is no small matter.  Indeed it may be said that the recent history of the medical profession is one of encouraging openness between doctor and patient, and encouraging patients to take responsibility for their own medical decision making.
  3. Dr Adams response when we put that concern to him was to indicate that he was confident that he had discussed the matters on the form with all of his patients, including the potential complications of any operation.
  4. He provided us with his notes in respect of patient consultations with eight of those patients. His note on each occasion was cursory; – the words “operation discussed” were most frequently used. There seems to us to have been very little in his notes to rely on had there been a subsequent dispute as to what he had told his patients about the forthcoming operation.
  5. We accept that his recollection was that he would discuss the advantages and risks of the proposed operation with each patient. But even assuming that he had done so, it is nevertheless an extremely paternalistic approach to patient care for the doctor to have taken it upon himself to complete these detailed documents on his patients’ behalf, and apparently without their knowledge.
  6. It has meant that patients have not had the opportunity to discuss their treatment options and the benefits and risks of the operation in a considered manner with their family or other persons before opting to go ahead with treatment.
  7. 53. Further, in forging the patients’ signatures Dr Adams has placed other professionals including his colleagues at great risk.  For instance, the forged consent form includes consent to anaesthesia.  An anaesthetist may well have relied upon such a consent and would have been entitled to do so, not knowing that the consent was forged.


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