Doctor fined and censured for damaging patient’s hand during liposuction treatment

SINGAPORE – A general practitioner who specialises in aesthetic treatments has been fined and censured by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) for damaging a patient’s hand during a liposuction treatment.

Dr Kevin Teh, a 40-year-old doctor with the Singapore Lipo, Body and Face Centre, was alleged to have damaged rescue swimmer Michael Balensiefer’s hand during a liposuction treatment in 2009.

Mr Balensiefer, 36, appealed to then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan about his case. Mr Khaw then directed the SMC to hold a disciplinary hearing on the case. The hearing took place last year and this year.

In its grounds of decision on this case, which was published on Tuesday, the SMC’s disciplinary committee found that Dr Teh had “made a series of misjudgements which ultimately culminated in him dishonestly trying to cover his tracks”.

Mr Balensiefer had gone to Dr Teh’s clinic seeking liposuction treatment to remove the “love handles” from his lower back.

Under his medical history, Mr Balensiefer indicated in his Patient Registration Form that he was allergic to Amoxycillin – a common antibiotic. However, Dr Teh’s clinic manager failed to record that when keying the information into the clinic’s computer system.

The process error resulted in Dr Teh prescribing a medication containing Amoxycillin to Mr Balensiefer, who took it as part of the pre-operation medication.

Dr Teh subsequently discovered the process error but went ahead with the procedure, by intravenously administering an anti-histamine to counteract any allergic reaction the consumption of Amoxycillin may have caused.

When Mr Balensiefer woke up from the procedure, his right hand was swollen, painful, and numb. In the week that followed, the swelling persisted and also extended to his lower arm. Within two weeks of the procedure, his right thumb was “dusky” coloured and a surgeon at Tan Tock Seng Hospital found 15cm of blocked artery in Mr Balensiefer’s right hand.

He was operated on and most of the blockage was removed. His thumb was also saved from amputation, although there is “permanent compromise to his hand’s blood circulation”, and some of his right hand’s muscles have also “wasted away”, stated the grounds of decision. He has been advised to change his career as a rescue swimmer with the US Navy.

Dr Teh realised that he had not recorded Mr Balensiefer’s allergy history during his first consultation on March 12, 2009, so he tampered with the Casenotes and made it seem as though the allergy history was recorded on that date, when it was in fact a late insertion of information.

“The information entered in the Casenotes was not in and of itself inaccurate”, but it reflected “Dr Teh’s intention to avoid scrutiny of his conduct”, said the grounds of decision.

Dr Teh has been fined $10,000, censured, and asked to give a written undertaking to the SMC to abstain in future from falsifying or causing to be falsified any patient’s medical records.

He has also been ordered to pay 70 per cent of the costs of, and incidental to, the disciplinary proceedings, including the costs of counsel to the SMC and the Legal Assessor.

The grounds of decision also added that since this incident, Dr Teh has since reformed much of his clinic’s standard operating procedures with regard to the administration of medications, and the changes “point to Dr Teh having learned from his mistakes”. Dr Teh has no other disciplinary antecedents.

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