The experienced GP was found guilty of professional misconduct for continuing to treat an elderly patient after he became aware that he was named as the dominant beneficiary in her will.

The GP had commenced treating the patient in 1996. Over the course of time they formed a genuine friendship, socialising together and exchanging gifts. In or about 2002 or 2003 the GP became aware that he was named as a beneficiary in the patient’s will. However, despite this knowledge, he did not terminate the doctor-patient relationship and continued to treat her until July 2010 when he was ordered by the Medical Board to cease treating the patient and to transfer her care to another practitioner. The Board’s intervention occurred following a complaint received from a friend of the patient who had been named as a beneficiary under a previous will.

The Tribunal accepted the Board’s submission that the doctor was required to choose between his role as a medical practitioner and that of a friend. At no time did the doctor make any attempt to dissuade the patient from including him and his family members in her will. Nor did he encourage her to find another independent GP to take over her medical care.

The Tribunal noted that the patient was vulnerable, being very dependent on the doctor and therefore at risk of undue influence. However, it was found that the doctor did not manipulate her and she had full testamentary capacity to execute her final will in 2012.

It was held that the doctor had failed to recognise the proper boundaries of a doctor-patient relationship. He was reprimanded and ordered to pay a fine of $25,000 to the Medical Board and complete a program of education addressing his ethical responsibilities and maintaining professional boundaries between medical practitioner and patient. He was also ordered to pay the Board’s legal costs of $45,000.

To read the full decision in Medical Board of Australia and Grogan [2017] SAHPT 8, click here