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Medical Records and Correspondence Demand Respect

Author(s): M Benamer

Journal: Libyan Journal of Medicine
ISSN 1819-6357

Volume: 2;
Issue: 3;
Start page: AOP:070618;
Date: 2007;
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To The Editor: I was amazed recently to see a patient from Libya who came to the UK for treatment based on the advice of his Libyan physicians. The patient carried with him no referral letter whatsoever. Not one physician familiar with his case bothered to write a few lines for the poor patient, although each of those doctors saw the patient at least twice and prescribed one or more treatment. The patient carried with him different medications that had been prescribed, and a few empty containers of other medicines he had used. I mention the above short tale to bring to light what I feel is a major ethical problem with the way medicine is practiced in Libya [1]. The keeping of good medical records together with clear and concise correspondence between physicians is imperative for several reasons. Not only does it avoid duplication of services and unnecessary costs, it decreases the time invested by both the patient and physician, and it fosters a collegial relationship among healthcare providers. Many times, referring physicians may not know each other. It provides a channel for them to learn from each other as well as a method for them to form professional relationships. It occurred to me that colleagues in Libya may be shy of writing referral letters or may even be phobic about disclosing their practice habits. Patient information can best be written as referral letters which summaries the patient presentation, testing, response to treatment, possible consultation, and reason for referral. The referral may be because the physician(s) initially treating the patient simply have tried all treatments known to them, or they may need to refer if they lack certain diagnostic equipment necessary to continue the care. To refer the patient to colleagues simply says “we think more can be done for this patient but we may not be able to do it here; please evaluate.” It shows respect for the patient and for the colleague. No physician knows everything there is to know or has every diagnostic tool available. I understand from speaking to doctors who practice in Libya that medical documentation is rudimentary. If it exists, it lacks clarity, continuity, confidentiality, and accountability. Doctors fail to sign and date their orders if they enter them in patients’ notes [2]. Relaying patients’ information to colleagues is mainly done verbally without much documentation [3]. People who need to go abroad for governmental paid treatment may request a medical report. These are almost always simple, short letters without clear diagnoses, treatment recommendations, or a current medication list. I recall senior surgeons who left the duty of writing the operative notes to the most junior doctor on the team. There is a lesson to be learnt here from other physicians who demand more of themselves and of their colleagues, as it helps advance practice There might be few potential reasons to explain why this malpractice is happening:1. Concern about litigation.2. Lack of basic clerical support.3. Lack of appropriate stationary or reliable postal service4. No clear guidelines from the relevant governing body 5. Lack of confidence6. Lack of a general practitioner to look after the patient’s interest With widespread communication technology, there is no excuse for doctors today to fail to document patient information. Computer software provides a simple method for documentation and allows for the swift electronic transmission of data to and from colleagues. We are more prone to litigation if we fail to record what we have done with our patients. We may forget the old adage “if it’s not documented, it was not done.” This is how attorneys approach medical documentation when retained for legal services. It is important we do not forget this simple fact. I was unable to find any clear guidelines from the medical board in Libya about keeping case notes and writing correspondence, although these guidelines are widely available internationally and need only sincere implementation [4]. As medical practice becomes more sophisticated and we find more subspecialty colleagues inside Libya, it will become even more important to have a reliable communication system. I would like to encourage physicians in Libya to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to their medical documentation practice for it stands to benefit both the patient and physician, and it will undoubtedly help the evolution of medical practice in Libya.

Tango Jona
Tangokurs Rapperswil-Jona

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