Cardiologist banned from seeing female patients

A Victorian cardiologist with more than 40 years in practice has been banned from seeing female patients by a tribunal investigating alleged breaches of sexual boundaries during cardiac examinations.

Dr Tiow Hoe Goh of Melbourne had his registration suspended in April 2021 after the Sexual Boundaries Notification Committee of the Medical Board of Australia acted on allegations that he had behaved inappropriately towards a female patient during a physical examination.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal noted this was not the first time that Dr Goh, who specialises in treating patients with congenital heart disease, had been the subject of notifications regarding his conduct with patients.

The suspension was partially lifted in June when a tribunal imposed conditions on Dr Goh’s registration that allowed him to interpret patients’ cardiac reports and provide advice to referring practitioners, but prohibited contact with patients.

At the most recent hearing in November 2021, the tribunal amended the conditions to allow Dr Goh to practice but permitting no contact with female patients.

The tribunal also ordered that Dr Goh display a sign wherever he practices, setting out the requirement that he must not undertake examinations of females.

The proceedings arose because of a notification regarding a female patient aged 15 who alleged that Dr Goh touched her inappropriately during an examination and made inappropriate comments about her appearance.

The tribunal received an expert reports from a cardiologist who took the view that the chest examination of the female patient was done in an inappropriate manner and that Dr Goh did not take adequate steps to ensure patient comfort as described in the Sexual Boundaries Guidelines.

In his submissions, Dr Goh strenuously denied the allegations and asserted that his actions had been misconstrued, providing an expert report from a paediatric cardiologist who judged the examination to be appropriate.

Dr Goh also provided character references from four medical practitioners who had known him for up to 50 years and who testified that he was held in high regard for his expertise, and they had not heard of any negative reports about him from patients.

In its deliberations, the tribunal noted that investigations into the allegations were at a very early stage and it was not making findings as to whether Dr Goh carried out an appropriate cardiac examination or whether there was any pattern of conduct.

Nevertheless, it said the allegation was of a serious nature and similar to a notification relating to another female patient.

“Due to the serious nature of the allegations and taking into account the totality of the alleged (and established) conduct, we have formed a reasonable belief that Dr Goh does pose a serious risk to persons,” the tribunal concluded.

“There is a serious risk that if he continues to conduct cardiac examinations he may cause upset and distress to patients. Therefore immediate action is warranted to protect public health or safety pursuant to section 156(1)(a) of the National Law.”

Noting that Dr Goh was currently prevented from any contact with all patients and that the conduct in question involved interactions with females, the tribunal ordered that his patient contact be restricted to male patients.

The conditions state that: “Dr Goh’s practice is restricted in relation to female patients to interpreting and reporting ECGs, echocardiograms and Holter monitors, reviewing paediatric cardiac catheter reports and other patients’ cardiac reports and then subsequently providing reports and advice to the referring paediatricians and cardiologists, where this involves no contact with female patients.”

The conditions also require him to provide monthly declarations from January 2022 that he has complied with the conditions on his registration at all times.

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