Venturing beyond expertise, a very dangerous affair

  • Posted on: March 02, 2023

Legally speaking, a doctor is not allowed to treat a patient when the treatment is beyond his / her expertise. Even in emergencies, the doctor is supposed to provide first aid and refer the patient to relevant specialist.

The patient was accidently hit by a stone. It badly injured his left knee. He approached his general physician (GP); an X-Ray was taken. The doctor started anti-tubercular treatment (ATT) and also performed biopsy.

The patient continued to experience unbearable pain despite the treatment. He approached a national hospital and met an orthopaedic surgeon. To his utter surprise, the patient was diagnosed with telangiectatic osteosarcoma. His left leg had to be amputated.

Losing his leg shook the patient to the core. He sued the GP and alleged that wrong diagnosis and delayed treatment for cancer led to amputation of leg.

The GP stated in defence that patient’s blood ESR and Mantoux test reported positive for TB, hence ATT was started. He further stated that the biopsy sample drawn unfortunately contained only muscle tissues and not bony tissues, hence the diagnosis of cancer could have been missed. It was an honest mistake.

The Commission rejected GP’s defence, as it observed the following:

“From medical record, it is evident the doctor is a general physician, not an orthopaedic surgeon. He was not competent to diagnose and treat either osteosarcoma or tuberculosis of bone. He ventured to do needle biopsy which was not his domain. He should have referred the patient either to a surgical pathologist or a surgeon / orthopaedician to obtain biopsy”.

“The GP’s duty was limited to primary treatment or proper referral, but he started ATT and same was stopped within few days and again restarted without any justification”.

The Commission ruled the GP negligent. His defence that it was a bona fide mistake was rejected.

Source: Order pronounced by National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission on 29th September, 2022.