A Goonellabah lung specialist and Queensland University lecturer, Dr Samuel Tae-Kyu Kim, has been reprimanded by the Medical Council of New South Wales Professional Standards Committee following a complaint by a patient to the Health Care Complaints Commission.
The complainant, referred to in the inquiry as ‘Patient A’, first consulted Dr Kim in October 2010 for chronic cough, which was ultimately diagnosed as ‘hypersensitivity pneumonitis’.
She also experienced a range of musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal symptoms, including recurrent joint pain, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and general malaise.
Patient A was concerned about the changing nature of her diagnosis and the number of medications she was prescribed by Dr Kim, but it was his undisclosed connection with Universal Medicine (UM) and referrals to esoteric practitioners connected with Universal Medicine which prompted Patient A to complain to the Commission.
Dr Kim recommended to Patient A various esoteric therapies offered by Universal Medicine, including to ‘esoteric lung massage’ offered by his wife and fellow UM student, Jasna Jugovic.
She was also referred to compounding chemist Michael Serafin for ‘bioidentical hormone replacement therapy’ as well as to another UM associated practitioner, Neil Ringe, for ‘chakra puncture’ therapy.
Dr Kim also recommended the patient contact UM leader Serge Benhayon for a consultation.
In November 2012, he emailed Patient A “…I also feel you should see Serge Benhayon one day sooner than later to help you – as your physical medicine is going well otherwise…..”
Dr Kim admitted to the Committee that, ‘At the time that I sent the email to Patient A I thought that I was clear that Mr Benhayon was not offering physical medical treatment. Mr Benhayon offers “spiritual healing” ….
‘I acknowledge that I did not make sufficiently clear to Patient A the distinction between the conventional medicine I was providing as her thoracic physician and the complementary therapies I recommended she pursue with Mr Ringe, Ms Jugovic, Mr Serafin and Mr Benhayon.’
Significantly below standard
The Committee determined that Dr Kim’s conduct was ‘significantly below the standard reasonably expected of a practitioner with his level of training and experience.’
They determined he ‘inappropriately recommended and prescribed bioidentical HRT for Patient A, when this was outside the scope of his expertise and done without appropriate referral.’
He was also reprimanded for recommending esoteric lung massage and chakra puncture, ‘knowing there was insufficient evidence for their efficacy as treatments for Patient A’s lung condition.’
Dr Kim stated that chakra puncture is an ‘internationally recognised therapy’, although Universal Medicine is the only group which practices and teaches chakra puncture.
He also told the Committee that he had recommended chakra puncture for persistent chest pain, but without first referring Patient A to a Pain Clinic. He said he didn’t have a strong relationship with the local Pain Clinic and didn’t think Patient A had the kind of pain which was appropriate for referral to a Pain Clinic. Dr Kim said that with hindsight he ‘could have done better’.
Dr Kim told the Committee that since 2005 he has been a student of Universal Medicine and had undertaken a number of Universal Medicine courses. He pays an annual fee to be a member of Universal Medicine’s Esoteric Practitioners Association and receives newsletters from, and attends conferences of, the Association.
He has written an article which is on the Universal Medicine website and also a letter to the Courier Mail newspaper around September 2012 defending Universal Medicine.
Dr Kim leases premises from Universal Medicine and his professional letterhead states that the Blue Hills Lung Clinic is located in the Universal Medicine Clinic. In oral evidence he acknowledged he was an advocate for and supporter of Universal Medicine principles.
Dr Kim admitted he did not explain any interconnections between himself and Universal Medicine practitioners Neil Ringe, Serge Benhayon and Michael Serafin, but asserted he has no ‘interconnections’ with these practitioners other than they are all members of Universal Medicine and the Esoteric Practitioners Association.
He acknowledged that he has trained in Universal Medicine with Mr Ringe and Mr Serafin and some of his patients have also consulted Mr Ringe, Mr Benhayon and Mr Serafin.
Dr Kim admitted that he did not disclose his connection to Ms Jugovic to whom he is now married.
The Committee stated that as the esoteric treatments offered to Patient A were ‘not treatments generally regarded as part of the repertoire of respiratory medicine and they are not recognised by Medicare… full disclosure is essential to allow a patient to make an informed and appropriate choice.’
19th century attitude
The Committee heard evidence from Dr Yates, a consultant thoracic physician and Senior Staff Specialist at St Vincent Hospital in Sydney.
She said UM ‘affects an attitude which conventional medicine abandoned in the 19th century and this heightens the need to clearly distinguish for patients the difference between conventional medicine and Universal Medicine. Particularly as it is unclear, given it is a relatively new organisation, how Universal Medicine’s training programs are accredited.’
The Committee accepted her evidence as to the need for doctors to exercise caution and openly disclose personal connections and personal beliefs about unproven medical treatments, when referring patients to other practitioners, especially when the referral is for treatments which are not generally accepted evidence-based treatments.
The Committee ruled that, ‘prior to recommending or referring a patient for complementary therapies or treatment, [Dr Kim] must obtain a written opinion from a specialist thoracic physician who has been approved by the Council. [Dr Kim] must provide a copy of the patient’s medical records to the thoracic physician for review and must discuss the patient’s diagnosis, current condition, prognosis and the nature and purpose of the proposed complementary therapies or treatment.’
It also required that, ‘at the time of recommending or referring a patient for complementary therapy or treatment, [Dr Kim] must:
- explain to the patient the distinction between conventional therapies or treatment and the complementary therapies or treatment being discussed.
- inform the patient of any professional or personal connection the practitioner has with person(s) the patient is being recommended or referred to.’
Dr Kim has the right to seek a review by the Medical Council of NSW of the Committee’s order to impose conditions on his registration.