World Medical Association General Assembly

At its annual General Assembly in Santiago, Chile (October 12-15) the World Medical Association discussed a number of issues, including the following:

Medical Liability
Measures to combat the growing culture of medical litigation were proposed. A statement warned that the growth of litigation was adversely affecting the practice of medicine and eroding the availability and quality of health care services. The WMA described this as 'a medical liability crisis', where the lawsuit culture was increasing health care costs, restraining access to health care services, and hindering efforts to improve patient safety and quality. The statement declared that medical liability claims had diverted scarce health care resources to the legal system and away from direct patient care, research, and physician training and it added: 'The lawsuit culture has also blurred the distinction between negligence and unavoidable adverse outcomes, often resulting in a random determination of the standard of care. This has led to the broad perception that anyone can sue for almost anything, betting on a chance to win a big award. Such a culture breeds cynicism and distrust in both the medical and legal systems with damaging consequences to the patient-physician relationship.'

The statement urged all national medical associations to demand a reliable system of medical justice in their respective countries and called for public education programmes on the risks inherent in new advances in treatment and public advocacy programmes to demonstrate the problems resulting from strict cost containment.

Dr Yoram Blachar, chair of the WMA Council, said: 'We need to develop active opposition to meritless or frivolous. It is vital that we stop the increasing criminalization of medical acts by the courts.'

Drug Substitution
A statement was issued expressing serious concern about pharmacists who substitute different drugs to those prescribed by physicians. The WMA urged regulatory authorities to declare therapeutic substitution illegal, unless such substitution had the immediate consent of the prescribing physician. The meeting agreed that pharmacists should be required to dispense the exact chemical, dose, and dosage form prescribed by the physician. Once medication had been prescribed and begun, no drug substitution should be made without the prescribing physician's permission.

Dr Yoram Blachar said: 'National Medical Associations should oppose any action to restrict the freedom and the responsibility of the physician to prescribe in the best medical interest of the patient.'

Singapore Medical Association
An application from the Singapore Medical Association to join the WMA was accepted.

Dr Kgosi Letlape, chairman of the South African Medical Association, was installed as President of the WMA for 2005/6.

Dr Nachiappan Arumugam, a cardiologist from Kuala Lumpur and immediate past president of the Malaysian Medical Association, was elected President Elect.

Separate press releases were issued on:

  • Dr Letlape's inaugural speech
  • Avian Flu
  • The Global Impact of Alcohol on Health
  • Genetics and Medicine