SINGAPORE - Doctors must be taught more than just how to make medical diagnoses and administer treatments.
They must also be competent in professionalism and ethics, said Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong.
Speaking at the Physician's Pledge Affirmation Ceremony yesterday, he noted that the residency programme for doctors here incorporates professionalism as a core competency for training and assessment.
"The challenge arises when your personal interests and the patients' are not aligned," he said.
"When that happens, patients will need to rely on your sense of professionalism, that you will do the right thing in their best interests."
Mr Gan was addressing 380 newly-registered doctors at a ceremony at the National University of Singapore.
His comments come after recent news reports of a hand surgeon who doctored a patient's consent form after doing the surgery.
It was also announced at the event that the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) will be reviewing its Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines for doctors.
It is expected to be ready in the first quarter of next year.
The Council said there has been a 58 per cent jump in the number of complaints filed against doctors. There were some 150 complaints filed last year, up from 96 in 2009.
They include 14 cases referred for disciplinary inquiries and 11 cases in which letters of warning were issued. There were 51 in which letters of advice were issued.
Common complaints from patients include professional negligence, incompetence and communication issues.
The Council noted that a review of its ethics code and guidelines was timely, especially since the role of doctors is now more complex, and the public, more demanding.
Explaining the timing, SMC president Professor Tan Ser Kiat said: "There are many reasons - one is, of course, advancing technological demands and he must be more knowledgeable.
"Second and an equally important factor is the increasing demands and expectations of the public."
He added: "From my experience, some of these demands and expectations are unrealistic and therefore we have to try to resolve that. We all know that medicine is unlike nuclear physics where one plus one is always equal to two."
Another problem is a surge in the number of advertisements, particularly those for lifestyle-type medical services.
Last year, there was a 41 per cent spike in the number of such cases - a total of 155 - being investigated for contravening the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics (Publicity) Regulations, compared to the year before, reported Channel NewsAsia.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said many of the complaints had to do with consumers who said they were influenced by advertisements to undergo unnecessary medical procedures. These are usually aesthetic treatments.
This year alone, 124 health-care licensees have been disciplined for making misleading statements, MOH said.
These statements include claims that they have the "best medical care available" or branding themselves as "Singapore's No. 1 clinic".
This article was first published in The New Paper.