Doctor found liable for professional misconduct in accessing wife’s medical records

Date: December 14, 2016


Medical Board of Australia v Shah [2016] QCAT

Key Points


These proceedings were brought before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT). Dr Shah was found liable to sanctions for professional misconduct for inappropriately sending an email to a treating oncologist, accessing a patient’s online medical records without written approval or reasonable justification and knowingly making and failing to correct a series of false statements in submissions to the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Authority. These violations took place against the backdrop of a marriage breakdown between Dr Shah and his wife, ‘SLC’, who was being treated for cancer at the time.


The allegation of sending an email to the treating oncologist and accessing computerised medical records of SLC was not contested by Dr Shah.

However, the allegation with respect to making false and misleading statements to AHPRA, with an intention to deceive was disputed. Dr Shah also claimed that his sending of the email and accessing SLC’s computerised records did not constitute professional misconduct, despite not having written consent to do so as he was never in a doctor/patient relationship with SLC, and was rather acting in the role of a concerned husband.

This contention led the Tribunal to determine the ‘true state’ of the marital relationship prior to 25 September 2012 (where the alleged misconduct began to occur). If it was not yet in break-down, Dr Shah could have been acting in his role as ‘concerned husband’ as alleged. However, the Medical Board submitted that the state of the marital relationship at all times after 12 August 2012 made Mr Shah’s version of events unacceptably improbable. The Tribunal found that SLC separated ‘physically and emotionally’ from Mr Shah on or around 12 August 2012, and as such, Mr Shah’s version of events was not accepted.


The Tribunal found that Mr Shah “abused his position of trust and confidence as a doctor and fell short of the standard of conduct that might be reasonably expected of him by the public or his professional peers”. In doing so, he breached the professional code of conduct he was required to adhere to in failing to maintain professional boundaries and protect his estranged wife’s right to privacy.

On the issue of penalty, the Tribunal found that the failure of a practitioner to be honest with a regulatory authority (in relation to the false statements made) evidences a “character flaw” suggestive of an inability to be honest in professional dealings. Dr Shah’s registration was suspended for six months. There were conditions imposed upon his registration coming back into effect, including taking a course in ethical decision making and completing it to a satisfactory standard within six months.


The Health Law team

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