The growing menace of fake medical reports
Everyone will certainly have heard about false or forged medical reports, and the suspicious transactions around them that occur in many large medical institutions. The health practitioners and administrators who carry out this practice violate the ethics and integrity of their profession. For decades, government institutions have been trying hard to tighten the noose around this unfortunately widespread crime.
The object of falsifying a medical report is usually to justify someone’s absence from work, or for use in a court case to prove the existence of a medical condition. Employees who have taken time off work to which they are not entitled, and falsely claim to be sick, usually resort to buying a forged medical report signed by a doctor and bearing the stamp of an approved hospital. The employee benefits by obtaining a “legitimate” excuse and the hospital staff or the doctor benefit from the payment, which depends on the condition mentioned in the report, the number of days covered and, of course, the size of the health institution and the level of its accreditation.
Not only is this practice covered by the criminal law against fraud, which has applied since 2013, but false medical reports are mentioned specifically; anyone who falsifies a medical report, or supplies one knowing that it contains false information, is liable to a fine of up to SR100,000 ($26,663) and imprisonment for a year.
Nazaha, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, has intensified its efforts to combat this crime by forming an inspection team to monitor hospitals and health centers suspected of involvement in supplying or selling false medical reports. As the Public Prosecution has taken over the task of investigating and monitoring, it has begun to look intensively into this crime and emphasize the penalties noted above.
The impact of false medical reports is not limited to their being a crime. They are a waste of public money, they harm the image of the medical profession and they are a sign of rampant corruption.
You may think it is difficult to obtain a false medical report, but in fact, it is worryingly easy. I searched for them for the purposes of this article, and quickly found them on social media — at much lower prices than I had expected!
Accredited hospitals must increase awareness among their employees about the gravity and illegality of supplying such reports, and remind them of the legal consequences. The penalties are not limited to the issuer of the false report, but apply also to the beneficiary and the intermediary. The relevant section of the Saudi Criminal Code makes it clear that anyone who participates in such a crime by means of an agreement, instigation or assistance is liable to the same penalty as the perpetrator.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif