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Doctors face tribunal over claims of plagiarism in iPhone app

Could lose their licences to practise if they control-V'ed from textbook

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Three doctors face the withdrawal or suspension of their licences to practise medicine after being accused of releasing an iPhone app which allegedly plagiarised material from an award-winning medical textbook.

One of the three stands further accused of writing a "misleading" review praising the app on the App Store.

The trio appeared before a Fitness to Practise hearing held by the Medical Practitioners' Tribunal Service (MPTS) on Tuesday, where they faced allegations that their Critical APPraisal app had plagiarised elements of The Doctor’s Guide to Critical Appraisal, a tome of advice on evaluating clinical evidence that is updated every year.

Dr Afroze Khan, Dr Zishan Sheikh and Dr Shahnawaz Khan began developing Critial APPraisal in September 2010 and released it for sale through Apple's App Store on July 2011.

However, the MPTS is looking into whether the trio "copied or used the same, or substantially the same, structure, content and material from the book in the compilation of the 'Critical APPraisal Guide' section of their app".

The three doctors are alleged to have failed to attribute the work of another author and stand accused of seeking "to make a gain from the sale of the plagiarised material".

Dr Afroze Khan additionally stands accused of posting a positive review of the software on the App Store on 23 July, 2011, allegedly without disclosing that he was a co-developer of the app or that he had a financial interest in it. If he were found to have taken that action, the MPTS said it would have been "misleading in that the review represented that you were posting your comments as a disinterested user of the App when you were not".

The hearing runs for several more days and will be closed to the public and press. A document about the case seen by The Register says the tribunal may exclude the public and the press “in accordance with Rule 41(2) of the General Medical Council (Fitness to Practise) Rules 2004” where “the circumstances of the case outweigh the public interest in holding the hearing in public”.

The third edition of the The Doctor’s Guide to Critical Appraisal won first prize in the “basis of medicine” category of the British Medical Association's Medical Book Awards last year. ®

Update

The fitness to practice hearing ended with two of the doctors walking away with their names cleared.

Dr Zishan Sheikh was cleared of all allegations and the case against Dr Shahnawaz Khan was concluded "without making any findings".

The panel also ruled that Dr Afroze Khan and Dr Zishan Sheikh did not knowingly plagiarise material when compiling the Critical APPraisal Guide app.

However, Dr Afroze Khan was found to have committed a minor act of dishonesty by posting "favourable review on the Apple iTunes Store encouraging potential purchasers to buy the App" without disclosing he was a developer of the app or that he had a financial interest in it. The panel concluded this was "dishonest" but decided not to impose a warning.

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