Documents lodged with VCAT showed almost 3000 messages were exchanged between Lawson and the victim via SMS and social media. This included a raft of “sexually explicit messages” and an “unsolicited and explicit photo” sent from Lawson to the victim.
The panel found Lawson had failed to maintain required professional boundaries and used his professional position to pursue “a sexual, exploitative or otherwise inappropriate relationship” with a patient.
Between September 8 and December 14, Lawson also performed at least 20 sessions of shockwave therapy, each of which was allocated a 40-minute consultation.
The therapy is used to treat heel pain and should only last for four minutes, VCAT documents said.
The maximum number of shockwave therapy sessions that is clinically required for any patient is usually between four and six.
“Mr Lawson knew or ought to have known that a 40-minute consultation was not warranted,” the panel found.
“Mr Lawson continued to perform a further nine to 10 sessions of shockwave therapy … in circumstances where he knew or ought to have known that it was not clinically justified or efficacious.”
Lawson, a married man, also offered the victim employment at his practice by asking her to do reception work for him on a trial basis. He accepted and encouraged gifts from her in the form of baked goods, the panel found.
The victim gave evidence that she was trying to start up a cupcake business at the time and became distressed when Lawson withdrew his job offer to her after telling his wife about the patient.
In cross-examination, Lawson said he probably did ask the victim for cupcakes but he always offered to pay her and she would not accept any money.
Text messages lodged with VCAT from Lawson to the victim in November 2016, show him writing to the patient: “Can u make some gingerbread cupcakes” and “Can we get some cupcakes for Friday”.
VCAT senior member Elizabeth Wentworth said it was the panel’s view Lawson had initiated the sexually explicit text messages with the patient and his conduct was “substantially below” the standard reasonably expected of a registered health practitioner.
“Mr Lawson’s conduct was not only inappropriate in its own right but also, in our view, aggravated the potential harm involved in the personal and sexual relationship he was pursuing, ” she said.
“In view of the frequency and variety of the boundary transgressions, we are also satisfied that the conduct falls within … the definition of professional misconduct. We also take the view that any patient will be vulnerable given the power imbalance inherent in the therapeutic relationship.”
The panel accepted Lawson was remorseful and said it would take into account his professional inexperience at the time, before deciding his penalty at a VCAT hearing later this month.
In December 2016, the Podiatry Board of Australia advised Lawson that it had received multiple notifications about his conduct in relation to the victim and proposed taking immediate action against him.
He gave an undertaking not to practise podiatry and has not practised since.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.