Is involvement in a research project by a medical practitioner professional conduct?

Key Points
  • Participation in the research project by a medical practitioner was ‘professional conduct’ as it was connected to his professional practice.
  • It was relevant that the practitioner was invited to participate in the research project because of his skills as a medical practitioner.
  • A breach of privacy in the course of participation in the research project was professional misconduct.


A recent decision of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal considered whether a medical practitioner’s involvement in a research project constituted professional conduct and if so, whether his conduct amounted to professional misconduct.

The ACT Tribunal recently found a medical practitioner guilty of professional misconduct while engaged as a research assistant.

There had been disagreement between the practitioner and the lead researcher concerning the manner in which the research was being conducted and reported. Following this dispute, the practitioner wrote to four former patients stating their medical treatment details were being made available outside of the hospital. There was in fact no evidence that this was true. Complaints made by the practitioner in relation to the manner in which the research was being conducted by the lead researcher had been independently investigated and dismissed.

It was alleged the practitioner had breached privacy by disseminating information he was provided with as a result of his involvement in the research project to persons and/or entities outside the project research team.

The Tribunal was required to consider whether conduct arising from the research project was connected to his professional practice. The practitioner submitted that the conduct was not connected to his medical practice because his involvement in the research project was as a statistician.

The Tribunal found that the nature of the obligations placed upon the practitioner when conducting research within a medical context was professional conduct. This wass due to the operation of Chapter 11 of the Doctors’ Code of Conduct, the NHMRC code and the ACT Health Research Practice Policy. The practitioner was not invited to participate in the research exclusively because of his skills as a statistician but also because of his skills as a medical practitioner.

The Tribunal concluded that the practitioner engaged in professional misconduct by breaching obligations in clause 11 of the Doctor’s Code of Conduct, breaching Principle 9 of the Health Records Act and acting inconsistently with the Information Privacy Principle 11 of the Privacy Act by disseminating information he was provided with as a result of his involvement in a research project to persons and/or entities outside the research project team. Principle 9 and Principle 11 were binding upon the doctor by the operation of clause 11 of the Doctors’ Code of Conduct, the NHMRC Code and the ACT Health Research Practice Policy.

Post by Karen Kumar 

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