respiratory
Medical politics

Thoracic physician stands down in dispute over ‘esoteric’ group


A thoracic physician found to have breached a patient’s privacy by sharing their medical records with a controversial “Universal Medicine” (UM) practitioner has stood down from his position on the AMA Queensland council.

Dr Samuel Tae-Kyu (Sam) Kim – a consultant thoracic physician in Brisbane – has been the focus of an ABC investigation into claims he shared a patient’s medical records with Serge Benhayon, founder of the unorthodox ‘esoteric massage’ UM group that some have labelled a cult.

The allegations relate to an incident in 2010 when a patient, Riley Lance Martin, consulted Dr Kim for a lung condition at his practice in northern NSW.

According to an investigation by the NSW Privacy Commissioner, the patient told Dr Kim he was receiving “energetic treatments” from Mr Benhayon. Mr Martin says he later stopped UM treatments after becoming sceptical of their value, but was shocked when he discovered in 2017 that his medical records had been shared by Dr Kim with the UM practitioner.

Investigating a complaint lodged by the patient, the Information and Privacy Commission NSW found that Dr Kim sent a summary of Mr Martin’s medical records to his GP and copied in Mr Benhayon at the Universal Medicine Clinic.

Dr Kim told the IPC he had obtained verbal consent from the patient for the disclosure, but the IPC found he had not documented this. The Privacy Commissioner also questioned why a thoracic physician would share a patient’s private medical history, including all medication records with a service that did not appear to be related to his lung condition.

“It is for these reasons and the absence of any written evidence of consent, I accept that Mr Martin did not provide his consent for, or reasonably would expect, Dr Kim to disclose his health information to Mr Benhayon,” the commissioner said in ruling that Dr Kim’s disclosure had breached Health Privacy Principles.

In a statement to the limbic, Dr Kim maintained he had obtained the patient’s verbal consent, and said suggestions to the contrary in media reports were false and defamatory.

Dr Kim said he was a student of Universal Medicine and honorary advisor for Mr Benhayon’s College of Universal Medicine, but he had no financial interests in the group or any role in operational decisions.

“To my knowledge and in my experience, Universal Medicine is not a cult. In my opinion UM is a reputable healing organisation that is well respected by its practitioners and clients,” he said.

“Despite the suggestion of breaching the referral process in medicine, I do not engage in referrals to complementary practitioners,” he added.

In May 2017, the NSW Medical Professional Standards Committee found Dr Kim guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct for referring a women with a persistent cough and lung problems to an unregistered complementary medicine practitioner for ‘esoteric lung massage’ and ‘chakra puncture’.

The committee found that between 2010-2013 Dr Kim failed to disclose to the patient that the masseuse was his fiancée, and that the treatment she would offer was not evidence-based.

Dr Kim was reprimanded with conditions placed on his practice, including a requirement to obtain and document a second opinion and approval from a thoracic physician before making any referrals for complementary therapies and to practice under supervision.

In his professional profile, Dr Kim is described as a highly experienced clinician with expertise in bronchial thermoplasty for severe asthma, airway stenting and endoscopic lung volume reduction (ELVR) in severe emphysema, and an active member of the RACP, TSANZ and the Esoteric Practitioners Association.

Dr Kim has also been a member of the AMA Queensland Council since 2017, but AMA Queensland Council chair Dr Shaun Rudd said Dr Kim had stood down pending resolution of his current situation.

“AMA Queensland Council has a robust conflict of interest policy and AMA Queensland has full confidence in Dr Kim’s ability to serve as a Councillor,” Dr Rudd said in a statement.

In its ruling, the Information and Privacy Commission recommended that Dr Kim continue with a review of his practice’s internal procedures on obtaining written consent prior to disclosure of information. The complaint could be followed up by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal if the complainant wished, it said.