Medical Negligence in Hong Kong and How to Avoid It – An Introductory Guide, by Dr. Cheong Peng Meng

In the recent years, we have seen an increased awareness of patients’ rights in Hong Kong. This has led to a rise in reports of medical malpractice in the media and also a rise in the number of actual complaints against the healthcare profession. Coupled with an increase in the demands for healthcare services as a result of an ageing population, the risks on our healthcare services has also escalated. As Dr. Lam Ching-choi states in the foreword of the book, ‘a positive attitude towards risk management should include better understanding of relevant law, including duty of care, definition of criminal negligence, and assessment of damages.’ This book does exactly that – explaining the relevant law of medical negligence by breaking down and explaining duty of care, breach of duty, causation, assessment of damages and the relevant defences. On top of that, the author manages to explain these legal concepts in simple, layman’s language so that even those without any legal background would understand.

Apart from explaining the legal elements of the law of medical negligence, the author included a chapter summarising the medical negligence cases in Hong Kong. Readers were able to read all relevant Hong Kong cases at a glance. Those new to the practice area often comment that medical negligence is a difficult area of practice as one needs not only to understand the legal jargon, but also medical jargon. In his book, the author has summarised the cases to list out the facts of the case, the issues of adjudication and the judgment. In a most helpful manner, the author has also summarised the expert evidence in a comprehensible way such that the issues are easy to grasp. At the end of each case, the author offered his comments on the lessons to learn from the cases and this provides a good insight to those studying the topic.

The book is not only a legal text on the law of medical negligence in Hong Kong. The author also included commentary on uptodate information about medical practices like telephone consultations over the internet and new legislation such as the Apology Ordinance (Cap. 631) and the new complaints procedure adopted by the Preliminary Investigation Committee of the Medical Council. The sections on patient abandonment and preventive medicine provide interesting read on related medico-legal issues.

As a doctor, the author was able to provide practical tips in the “Risk Management” chapter which covers topics such as how to keep good medical records, patient confidentiality – disclosure of information to third parties, informed consent (including the position after the landmark decision of Montgomery v Lancashire Health Board [2015] 2 All ER 1031) and the good Samaritan doctrine (comparing the situation in the USA, Mainland China and Hong Kong). There is also a useful section on “Doctors and the Media”.

The book does not just cover the practice, but also procedure. It outlines the different pathways to which complaints can be addressed – via complaints to the Medical Council, through the court process, and settlement through alternate dispute resolution measures. The coroner’s inquest procedure is also explained.

What I found most informative was the information which the author presented as an “insider” of the medical profession. He discussed the insurance arrangements available for medical professionals in Hong Kong, including the defense organisation, the Medical Protection Society. He also presented a lot of interesting data. These include tables listing the categories of complaints received by the Medical Council, the number of mediation cases in the District Court and the Court of First Instance, and common verdicts for coroner’s inquests. Even the breakdown of cases opened by the Medical Protection Society and the Medical Protection Society’s subscription rates are listed.

The book is easy to read and understand. It is short but rich with information. It is recommended to all medical and healthcare practitioners who want to understand more about the topic so as to help manage risks. It is also recommended for those lawyers who are new to this practice area who wish to have a good overview about the topic. The case references after each section comes in handy if further research needs to be conducted. For the seasoned medical negligence practitioner, the book is also useful as a quick reference tool. All in all, if you are doing anything related to medical negligence, it is worthwhile to include this book in your library. 

Jurisdictions: 

principal lecturer at the Faculty of law, university of Hong Kong