Interview or Interrogation

The purely speculative telephone record of a completely fictitious phone call:

Mr Chin Wu Eng (MOH officer): Hello, may I speak to Ms Seow Kah Chng please?

Ms Seow: Yes, I am Seow Kah Chng

Mr Chin: Ms Seow, I am Chin Wu Eng and I am calling from Ministry Of Health and I would like to ask you a few questions about a recent aesthetic procedure that you went through with Dr Lui Chin Chuay at Ecstatic Aesthetic Clinic at Lorong 38 Geylang.

Ms Seow (in anxious tone): How do you know I went for an aesthetic procedure?

Mr Chin: We are MOH, we know everything. But first, I would like to verify your identity by asking you a few questions. What is your date of birth?

Ms Seow: It’s none of your business.

Mr Chin: We know your birthday is 4 April 1992 and you live near Sims Ave. Is that correct? You also went for a liposuction of your buttocks on 3 May 2015 and 400 mls of fat was sucked out of your left buttock and 400 mls from your right buttock.

Ms Seow: (Nervously): I think so. But the doctor never tell me it was 400 mls.

Mr Chin: (In an authoritative tone) Good. We can now move on. Did Dr Lui Chin Chuay explain to you before the procedure about the benefits, risks and alternatives to buttock liposuction?

Ms Seow: Yes.

Mr Chin: Can you tell me what are some of the benefits, risks and alternatives?

Ms Seow: Yes, he told me that my buttocks will be smaller and look tighter and my husband will like it (giggles)….the “xiao” backside will be very attractive

Mr Chin: And…..?

Ms Seow: And I can also don’t do lor. Can exercise until I become Pioneer Generation then my backside may get smaller a bit. And only a bit…

Mr Chin: Did he mention any risks?

Ms Seow: Yes, he said all operations also got risks, but he said don’t worry, Dr Lui says he is very safe one. He pointed out to all the certificates and degrees hanging on the walls of his clinic.

Mr Chin, I see. Are you satisfied or satisfied with the procedure?

Ms Seow: Actually I don’t know. I suppose so lah. But all my customers say my backside now very tight, firm and small. I now can charge more….. (giggles again). I think now my backside smaller, can go next time to make my top bigger. I want at least a C-cup.

Mr Chin: (swallows some saliva) and your husband that you mentioned earlier?

Ms Seow: I where got husband? Dr Lui anyhow say one lah (giggles uncontrollably). Eh, I stay around Sims Ave and I go to clinic in Lorong 38 Geylang. I also go to DSC clinic every few weeks. You say you are from MOH, you dunno what I do meh???? You don’t know I go DSC clinic meh? Are you sure you are from MOH?

Mr Chin: Thank you for your time, Ms Seow.That will be all. (Click)

The above conversation is unlikely to have ever taken place for the following reasons:

·     There is no clinic called Ecstatic Aesthetics. And if there is, this hobbit will sue for copyright infringement faster than Amos Yee can bust his bail deposit.

·     There are hardly any more locals working in the world’s oldest profession, which together with the banking and academic sectors, are now dominated by foreign talent

·     MOH will definitely know you have gone to DSC clinic. Trust them.

In any case, this recent move by MOH to force patients who consent to an aesthetic procedure to also at the same time die-die (no other description other than the colloquial die-die will do here) consent to be interviewed by an MOH authorised person is nothing short of bizarre, undemocratic and callous in terms of taking into account the aesthetic patient’s emotional well-being.

The vast majority aesthetic patients do NOT want anyone to know that they have “augmented” themselves. This is not like going for an ACL repair or a Lasik job. This is Asia, and people are shy about telling their friends they went for an operation to treat piles, what more a buttock liposuction, for crying out loud. People don’t even want to be seen walking in and out of an aesthetic clinic, let alone talk to a complete stranger about the procedure. MOH may think the term “MOH authorised person” or “MOH officer” invokes feelings of closeness and 100% trust, but you know what? People have privacy needs and talking to a faceless voice on the telephone about his/her buttock liposuction evokes as much empathy, warmth and trust as a dead cockroach rotting in the afternoon sun. Unless you happen to be Caitlyn Jenner, the incredible transsexual Hulk, in which case, you may want to Twitter about it.

This hobbit fails to see what good this approach will do. For one, an effective audit predicated on having interview(s) involves good communication. Good communication that involves highly emotional and confidential information cannot happen between faceless strangers on a telephone call. MOH can learn from the Roman Catholic Church – confessions happen between the believer and the priest in a close private setting and the two address each other as ‘father’ and ‘child’. (No, I am not suggesting MOH officers be addressed as “father” but you get the point).

And to what end? The end is presumably to ensure patient safety and improve standards of aesthetic procedures. Aren’t there better ways to do this? If we are truly concerned that certain doctors are not competent or procedures are unsafe, then either raise the training requirements for doctors, ban the procedure altogether, or at least require the procedure to be done in a safe setting with proper equipment and staff etc. These are all already within the powers of MOH now. Why the need for an interview? An interview is a post-event, “after the fact” intervention. Wouldn’t it be better if we do something preventive, “before the fact”?

We also do not know what really happens in an interview. Could the interview process or the interviewer sow enough doubt and worries in the patient to trigger a complaint or legal action that turns out to be unwarranted or unnecessary? And if so, can the affected doctor seek redress from MOH? Or does MOH guarantee that the interviewer and process is completely neutral in any way and no leading questions are asked in the interview?

Today, it is forcibly bundling MOH interviews with aesthetic procedures? How about tomorrow? Will MOH bundle interviews with health screenings, ECGs and other procedures? Where will this all end? Is this the thin end of the wedge for patient autonomy? Are we killing patient autonomy slowly with each intrusive and forced interview? Where is the right of the patient in all this? Where is his right to consent to the aesthetic procedure but not to the interview? Why are we taking this right to decide whether he wants to be interviewed or not away from him? Can’t the aesthetic procedure patient tell MOH to butt out of his life (pun intended)? Doesn’t the patient have this basic right?

Come to think of it, since the patient doesn’t have the right to decline, maybe we should call this the post-aesthetic procedure interrogation instead

What ever happened to patient autonomy in this country?

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