Are you in safe hands?
When we are sick or injured, we place our trust completely in the doctors or medical care providers. We count on them to use their professional experience and expertise to cure us. However, the reality is, doctors are also human and hence are prone to make mistakes. Some of these mistakes maybe insignificant while others highly damaging, resulting in complications or even death. The mistakes could stem from avoidable causes such as medical negligence or due to erroneous and substandard medical treatment. The latter in this case, is termed as medical malpractice and is a serious issue plaguing the healthcare sector.
In the UAE, medical negligence and malpractice are deemed serious enough to be criminal offences. As per Gulf News, in 2015, around 13 doctors had their licenses revoked while in 2014, 9 doctors were suspended due to gross malpractice. In 2013 alone around 500 medical malpractice claims were reported; the claim to population ratio in the UAE was comparable to that of Britain.
The flip side – A doctor’s perspective
Though doctors who are negligent and responsible for life threatening / fatal mistakes should be brought to task, the flip side is that a majority of the malpractice law suits filed are usually frivolous.
In addition to this, the old UAE malpractice law (2008) allowed for physicians to be arrested or temporary imprisoned or banned from travel, when a case is filed against them. This could be done even before the case was fully investigated. There was no framework for a detailed investigation to be carried out by group of medical professionals studying the actual facts and events.
Therefore doctors were reluctant to work in UAE, over cautious and practiced defensive medicine as they were scared of the misuse of the law.
The new Medical Liability Law
On 15thAugust 2016, a new UAE Federal Law No. 4 on Medical Liability came into effect, which had many amendments to the former law of 2008. This new law is at par with international best practices on medical liabilities as it has been established after conducting a comprehensive analysis of similar laws prevailing in the US, UK, Australia and Canada.
Below are some of the key highlights of the new law:
- It consists of 46 articles which outline the duties and responsibilities of medical practitioners and institutions
- It clearly defines medical terms like euthanasia and sex rectification leaving no room for ambiguity
- It explicitly bans human cloning, abortion, sex change and euthanasia
- It mandates the formation of Medical Liability and Supreme Medical Liability Committees
- It ensures that medical care givers are not arrested or detained till the Medical Liability Committee report states that they are guilty of gross medical malpractice
- It sanctions punishment ranging from two to ten years of jail sentence and compensations ranging from AED 10,000 to AED 1 million
- It mandates healthcare institutions to take medical liability insurance
This new law has been well received by both patients & doctors, as it strives to handle and settle medical malpractice cases in a balanced way by upholding both the rights of patients, as well as healthcare providers in UAE. Under this law, patients can directly approach the health authorities to report any cases of medical negligence and the medical community can be reassured of a transparent investigation process, giving them a chance to explain the situation.
Analysis of the new law
- New Medical Definitions & Treatments
One of the most prominent features of the new law is the inclusions of clear unambiguous definitions of medical terms like sex change, sex correction, human cloning etc. It also takes a clear stance on which treatment is allowed and which is not. Human cloning, abortion, sex change and euthanasia are banned under the new law.
The new law allows sex correction surgeries but bans sex change. As per Article 7 of the new law, sex correction is allowed if “the person suffers from sexual obscurity between masculinity and femininity; the person’s physical features are contrary to his/her physiological, biological and genetic characteristics”. If this is validated for a case, on the basis of a medical report and the approval of the specialized medical committee established by the health authority, then the medical team can proceed with the correction operation.
Under the new law cloning activities such as “researches, experiments and applications in order to clone a human being” are prohibited.
Euthanasia is banned in the UAE, but a medical practitioner can allow natural death by refraining from performing CPR, only if the patient is terminally ill and suffering from an incurable disease.
Abortion is permitted only in two scenarios:
- If the pregnancy is threatening the life of the mother
- If the foetus is malformed provided the pregnancy has not exceeded 120 days
- Penalties and Punishment
According to the new law, if a doctor is found guilty of medical malpractice he can be imprisoned for 2 to 10 years and can be asked to pay fines ranging from AED 10,000 to AED 1 million. The law has a separate section (Article 28) explicitly elaborating on penalties and punishments.
Some of them listed are as follows:
- o Gross medical errors: In case of gross medical error that results in death the doctor found guilty can serve a jail term of not more than two years and will have to bear a fine of up to AED 500,000
- o Denial of medical treatment or conducting unnecessary tests: In both cases the doctor could have to pay a fine of up to AED 10,000
- o Human Cloning: Any doctor violating the Article 12 pertaining to cloning will incur a fine of at least AED 200,000 and can receive a prison sentence of 2 to 5 years.
Provision for settlement
This is a drastic change from the 2008 law. If the patient and the medical practitioner reconcile and agree to amicably settle out-of-court, at any given point of time, they are allowed to do so. This is applicable even if the final court ruling is passed. In case of settlement the case is dispensed and all penalties & punishments are dropped.
A Medical Liability Committee, comprising of specialized doctors, will be allocated by the health authority for all medical malpractice complaints. This committee analyses the case based on the facts of the case, medical files, investigations etc. and submits its report to the health authority. Both parties are allowed to appeal if they are not satisfied with the Medical Liability Committee’s report. In this case the Supreme Committee for Medical Liability takes over in order to resolve these grievances. The Supreme Committee’s decision is final and binding. No further appeal can be made.
Mandatory Medical Liability Insurance
Accordingly to the law, it is mandatory for all healthcare institutions to take Medical Liability Insurance for all its doctors. The old law (2008) stated that the institution should bear at least 80% of the premium cost, but the new law states that the institution should bear the full cost.
A medical liability insurance policy will usually safeguard an institution against:
- o Legal Liability to pay Compensation to patients in negligence & malpractice cases
- o Expenses like Court Charges, Lawyers Fee, etc.
The rising number of frivolous medical malpractice cases has made the medical fraternity over cautious. It pushes the doctors to practice ‘defensive medicine’ and they tend to order series of additional unwanted investigations to safeguard themselves from lawsuits. This in turn has caused the healthcare cost and insurance premiums to soar.
The new law looks very promising in addressing this issue. It protects the rights of the patients as well as the healthcare providers in UAE through a transparent investigation process. The UAE has always been a forerunner in creating a strong national healthcare infrastructure and formulating laws to support it. This new UAE Federal Law No. 4 on Medical Liability is no exception.
About the author
Talal Bayaa studied bio engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. When he returned to the UAE in 2008, he started working in corporate finance gradually promoting to Assistant Manager for private equity & corporate finance. After sensing an opportunity in the financial products market, Talal started Bayzat with other co-founder Brian Habibi as a financial product comparison platform. With further advancing its’ technology platform over time, Bayzat became a technology company that provides insurance and HR solutions Currently, he is managing Bayzat to build purposeful services that simplify and empower lives with using world-class technology