A tribunal has found a Sydney neurologist guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct for giving his mobile phone number to a patient for non-medical reasons.
But the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of NSW rejected allegations made against Dr Mohammed Shareef-Ud Dowla that he had engaged in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature in the examination of a female patient.
The case brought by the Health Care Complaints Commission 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 the patient had also reported pain radiating from her caesarean scar and Dr Dowla had conducted a physical examination of the scar and also areas of her leg and thigh where she reported pain. He said he did this to rule out a functional disorder.
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.
The tribunal was told the examination was conducted in a perfunctory or cursory manner, with the expert neurologists saying that given the area involved the patient should have been given a full explanation first and asked for express permission to proceed.
The tribunal did not accept the patient’s assertions that during the consultation the practitioner touched her in an inappropriate sexualised manner. Instead, it concluded that she had misinterpreted his actions due to her long and unfortunate history of abuse and mental health diagnoses, and her anxious state at the time of the consultation.
However the tribunal did find that Dr Dowla had failed to observe appropriate professional boundaries when he gave the patient his mobile number.
He 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, 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, as he did this as a service to several of his patients. He pointed out that he could access the patient’s mobile number from her medical records and had not contacted her.
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 ruled.
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, it concluded.
The tribunal said further hearings on costs and any possible protective orders would be held after 16 August.