Renowned neurosurgeon Charlie Teo found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct after two patients suffer catastrophic outcomes

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published July 27, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Neurosurgeon Dr. Charlie Teo is known for taking on high-risk surgeries.

  • A recent review of his conduct and hearing found that he performed surgeries with a greater risk for harm than any potential benefit and misled patients and families about the possible benefits of surgery.

Renowned Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo, MD, has recently been found guilty of poor professional conduct after two patients did not wake up after surgeries. Here's what has led up to the decision.

Dr. Teo's background

Neurosurgeon Dr. Teo has gained international attention and fame for his willingness to perform surgeries that many other neurosurgeons would consider too risky. Dr. Teo was raised and educated in Australia. After completing his education, he spent almost a decade working in the United States, where he was Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.[]

Dr. Teo then returned to Australia, where he has practiced ever since. Over the course of his career, Dr. Teo gained a reputation as a surgeon who could help patients beat the odds. He has been featured in memoirs, articles, TV specials, documentaries, and more, and has been a guest speaker and visiting professor at universities around the world.[] 

Dr. Teo’s acclaim went beyond media and academic acclaim. In 2011, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, an honor designed to recognize “outstanding achievements and service” by Australian citizens for his services in medicine. In 2012, Dr. Teo gave the Australia Day speech. He was ranked as the “most trusted Australian” for three consecutive years between 2012 and 2014.[]

However, in the past several years, there has been growing controversy around Dr. Teo. In 2019, another prominent Australian physician, urologist Henry Woo, MD, called into question both the lack of peer-reviewed evidence for the benefit of some of Dr. Teo’s procedures and the large amounts of money Dr. Teo’s patients were often charged for surgery. Australia’s public healthcare system pays for any necessary surgeries. In 2021, the New South Wales Medical Council and the Health Care Complaints Commission. began conducting a review of Dr. Teo’s practices and into the question of whether all surgeries performed were truly beneficial for people with incurable brain tumors. 

During an eight-day hearing in September of 2022, Dr. Teo was accused of violating numerous professional standards. The hearings focused on two patients who had radical resections performed. Neither patient became conscious again after the surgical procedure, and both are now dead. []

Allegations include

Allegations in the case included acts such as misleading patients and families about the potential benefits of surgery, not obtaining proper informed consent before surgery, charging an inappropriate surgical fee of $35,000, slapping an unconscious patient, and speaking inappropriately to a patient’s daughter. Dr. Teo denied or downplayed the accusations in both his hearing and to the media.[] 

In October of 2022, a Sydney Australia newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, published an article about Dr. Teo that detailed the massive sums of money charged to families for surgeries that ultimately did not provide a cure. The article also detailed two specific patients, children with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), and their families who, reportedly, had negative interactions with Dr. Teo. Prominent neurosurgeons and colleagues of Dr. Teo’s spoke out in both support and criticism of Dr. Teo in the hearings and in the wake of the Sydney Morning Herald article.[] 

Ultimately, the hearings and investigations of Dr. Teo found him guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct. In a 100-page decision released on July 12, 2023, the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission stated that Dr. Teo had performed surgeries with risk that outweighed their benefits. They additionally noted that charges of not obtaining proper informed consent, misleading patients, and inappropriate patient and family interactions were accurate. The decision made it clear that the Commission was not calling into question Dr. Teo’s skills as a surgeon, but rather, his judgment in performing surgery when there was no evidence it could benefit patients.[][] 

Restrictions introduced

As a result of this decision, Dr. Teo now has multiple restrictions on how he can practice and perform surgery. These include:[]

  • He must get the written approval of an independent New South Wales Medical Council-approved neurosurgeon before he can perform surgery on any recurrent malignant intracranial tumor or brain stem tumor.

  • He must write to the New South Wales Medical Council at least seven days before changing his location or practice.

The committee stated these restrictions balance ensuring patient safety while allowing Dr. Teo to practice and provide the surgical skill he is known for to patients. The rule on not performing surgery without the approval of another neurosurgeon was contested multiple times during the hearing. Still, the committee stated they felt that Dr. Teo’s isolation from other surgeons might have been part of his judgment errors. Dr. Teo has the right to appeal the decision.[]

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