Casting doubt on hospital security, a 22-year-old man was caught last week for impersonating a doctor, at Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah in Kedah – a illegal stunt which he managed to pull off for over a year.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the ministry would review its safety procedures following this unsettling discovery.

MOH to review and improve current system

Reports state the man – who referred to himself as “Dr Ridzuan” – often visited the hospital, clad in a lab coat with a stethoscope around his neck. It also mentioned that “Dr Ridzuan” usually loitered around public areas, because he did not have access to the wards. Apparently, he has neither treated nor examined any patients at the hospital.

Subramaniam was quoted saying that health authorities had informed him that the imposter would strike up conversations with people before heading home. “He would come once a week; but he may have some problems. That’s why he is doing it,” enlightened Subramaniam.

The man’s sham unfolded when a senior doctor acted on his suspicion and checked the hospital records. Following this, the hospital lodged an official police report, and authorities arrested the fraud.

The health ministry would “review the current system and control measures to assess how to incident could have taken place – and to prevent it from recurring,” assured Subramaniam.

Imposters could be craving power, respect and social rewards, claims psychologist

The cases of fake doctors are not specific to Malaysia; and are, surprisingly, rather common. Equally real, BBC latest series, Trust Me goes on to reveal how ‘common’ such phenomenon could actually take place. The plot tells the story of a hardworking and skilled nurse, who loses her job for whistle-blowing. Out of desperation, she steals her best friend’s identity as an A&E doctor. In addition, Steven Jay Lynn, professor of psychology at the State University of New York, believes a variety of motivations drive medical impostors: a grandiose fantasy of power, respect, authority and the social rewards of being a doctor.

Lynn noted, “They’re likely not much different from con-men and women of different stripes who try to pull off scams in the business world, law and psychology.”

He continued, “Many could probably be described as callous, lacking in empathy, narcissistic, antisocial and even psychopathic, such that they can exploit people and treat them as objects without guilt or remorse.”

Nearly impossible to track every doctor in the hospital

Even with the health ministry aiming to tighten security, former president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), Dr H Krishna Kumar believes “there is no definite way to prevent ordinary individuals from faking it as doctors.”

Considering that hospitals have many points of entry – it is almost impossible to monitor all the doctors registered working at a hospital. “Hospitals have free access to the public. You can’t have a rigid system like in the military. You can’t have a single point of entry where every single person has to report himself at an entry point. That’s not how a hospital works,” expressed Krishna, when interviewed by reporters to comment on the matter.

Krishna added that it is not against the law to don a lab coat with a stethoscope around one’s neck. “The only way to identify one as bogus is to ask the doctor his identity,” he emphasised.

A unique identification badge (IDs) will be issued by each hospital to indicate every hospital staff, said Krishna. Additionally, it is used when a doctor signs off on a document.

“It’s near impossible to list every single doctor working in a particular hospital. It may be possible for a smaller hospital; however, it is impossible for a much larger hospital which has a lot of patient traffic,” he commented.

Krishna further remarked, “Somebody who wants to masquerade as a doctor can still do it. Hospitals are not a high-security place where we have special IDs to enter in and out because everybody is always walking in and out.” MIMS

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