Doctor breached boundaries by giving mobile phone number to patient

By Michael Woodhead

13 Aug 2019

A tribunal has found a Sydney doctor guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct because he gave his mobile phone number to a patient for non-medical reasons.

The Civil and Administrative Tribunal of NSW found that neurologist Dr Mohammed Shareef-Ud Dowla had failed to observe appropriate professional boundaries when he gave a female patient his mobile number and told her to text him if she developed an app that he could use in his practice.

The ruling was part of a case in which the tribunal rejected a complaint that the practitioner had engaged in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature in the examination of a female patient.

Brought by the Health Care Complaints Commission, the case was based on a complaint made by a female patient who consulted Dr Dowla in December 2015 at his consulting rooms at Blacktown for investigation of possible carpal tunnel syndrome.

The tribunal was told that Dr Dowla had conducted a physical examination of the patient’s caesarean scar and areas of her leg and thigh where she reported the pain occurring. Two expert neurologists, Professor Bruce Brew and Dr Paul Darveniza, agreed that the physical examination was not unreasonable in the circumstances of the patient’s complaint of pain.

The patient was reported to have a history of abuse and mental health diagnoses, and was in anxious state at the time of the consultation.

Dr Dowla said the patient had told him she was studying to be a mobile phone app developer and he asked her to text him if she was able to create one for him.

In his submission to the tribunal, Dr Dowla said he did this  “as a way of encouraging her to make ‘apps’ so as to promote her mental wellbeing; not to maintain social contact”.

He said there was no unprofessional motive to providing his mobile number, and he did this as a service to several of his patients. He also pointed out that he could access the patient’s mobile number from her medical records and had not contacted her.

One of the expert witnesses said he would rarely give his mobile phone number to patients.

“If information is urgently required by a patient about results of an investigation or direction about management I obtain their mobile number and ring them,” said Dr Darveniza in his report for the tribunal.

“Having said that I do know from speaking to a number of colleagues over the years some do give their mobile number to patients as a matter of service.”

However, the tribunal concluded that it was imprudent for a practitioner to give their mobile number to a patient for a non-medical reason.

This constituted “abnormal or irregular conduct in the practice of medicine” and Dr Dowla’s conduct could be classified as unsatisfactory professional conduct, it found.

The practitioner’s conduct was not of sufficiently serious nature to warrant his suspension or cancellation of his registration, and professional misconduct was not established, the tribunal ruled.

Further hearings on costs and any possible protective orders will be held after 16 August.

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