A Hong Kong public hospital consultant accused of taking HK$3,200 (US$410) from a patient for the purchase of medical equipment has been found not guilty of misconduct in public office.
Dr Choi Chi-yee, 44, left Kwun Tong Court on Monday after Magistrate Chu Chung-keung found her conduct, though suspicious, did not amount to serious misconduct since there was no evidence she pocketed the money.
The case centred on Choi’s dealings with a 30-year-old patient surnamed So, who sought help from United Christian Hospital over her keloid scars.
So told the court she had changed into robes ready for the surgical removal of the scars on February 11, 2016 when Choi, an associate consultant, suggested she pay HK$3,200 for Cryoshape treatment instead.
Prosecutors alleged Choi then falsely represented to So that she would arrange for the delivery of the medical equipment and help pass on the payment to the supplier, but she kept the money instead.
So testified that she agreed to the Cryoshape treatment, and placed the money in an envelope for Choi, but did not receive a receipt for her insurance claim.
The supplier also testified that there had been no transaction in February 2016.
The magistrate concluded that Choi’s conduct departed from normal procedures, and questioned why she did not provide a receipt, or ask the nurse to handle the payment.
But, he also noted that the medical supplier did not manage its receipts properly or keep strict inventory, which meant he could not rule out the possibility the supplier’s records were wrong.
Choi was subsequently acquitted of one count of misconduct in public office, and an alternative charge of theft.
Patients’ Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong said there were cases where a patient might need to pay for a device needed for surgery.
“One common item is a pacemaker,” Pang said. “But it is rather odd that a patient would give the money directly to a doctor. We also seldom hear that a doctor at a public hospital would receive payment directly from a patient to buy equipment.
“A patient should avoid doing so. It does no good to the patient and the doctor either, even though it might be well-intentioned.”
Dr Mak Siu-king, president of the Public Doctors Association, shared similar views and said: “To avoid the grey area, the Hospital Authority revised the procedures some one year ago. Now a doctor would ask the patient to pay the agent directly. That is to avoid possible conflict of interest.”
In a statement released on Monday evening the Hospital Authority said it had established guidelines for cases such as this.
“In general, the [Hospital Authority] has established policy and guidelines for the arrangements on the procurement of self-financed medical items by needy patients, where clinicians are not required to be involved in the process of payment settlement for the purchased items.
“On clinical treatment plan for patients, it is formulated by the clinical condition, and also what is in the best interest of individual patients.”