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Out of the shadows: Professional Standards Committee hearings

Geoffrey K Heber
Med J Aust 2002; 176 (8): 399.
Published online: 15 April 2002

To the Editor: I am a general practitioner who has specialised solely in the field of cosmetic medicine since 1988. I have been the subject of an investigation by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) and a resultant Professional Standards Committee (PSC) hearing, in which peer reviewers with significant conflicts of interest were used.

The process was triggered by a complaint from a patient who had developed blisters and superficial crusting after facial laser hair removal treatment. This is a recognised complication that the patient was aware of when giving consent for the procedure. The HCCC briefed a dermatologist, Dr "X", to comment on the treatment of which the patient had complained. The HCCC further instructed Dr X: "Your report need not be confined to the above questions [relating to such treatment] but should include any other matters you consider relevant and significant."

I was referred to the PSC primarily on matters unrelated to the treatment that had led to the patient's complaint. Before the PSC hearing I submitted various documents to the HCCC: (a) a copy of a newspaper advertisement for laser hair removal in which Dr X had stated "Trust only a dermatologist to recommend a safe and reliable method of managing unwanted hair" and "Prospective clients should closely check the qualifications of their laser practitioner and look for the letters FACD"; (b) a report from another dermatologist stating that Dr X "does have a history of a negative attitude to general practitioners who specialise in lasers. He has been seen on television on several occasions espousing this view."; (c) expert reports from two dermatologists expressing views contrary to the opinions of Dr X that had triggered my PSC referral; and (d) statutory evidence from a patient treated in his practice that Dr X's own clinical practice was contrary to that which he had advised the HCCC I should have followed.

The NSW Medical Board appointed as a PSC representative at my hearing a dermatologist who was a co-advertiser for laser hair removal with Dr X. The dermatologist in question was later removed (with difficulty) on objection. The PSC systematically disregarded expert evidence I had presented in favour of evidence presented by the HCCC. I have been told that this is a common occurrence.

I sincerely hope that the NSW Government Inquiry into the HCCC, to be released in 2002, will address the abuse of this system by biased reviewers. However, justice cannot be guaranteed when the HCCC and NSW Medical Board both effectively collude to prosecute these cases. PSC hearings should be administered by an independent body.

  • Geoffrey K Heber2

  • MD SkinSolutions, Broadway, NSW.

Correspondence: gheber@msn.com.au

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