Targeting rogue doctors to benefit all medicos and patients

12 April 2013
A landmark study into complaints against doctors nationwide has revealed an alarmingly small batch of doctors is responsible for half of all complaints made against the profession.

Kathryn Booth, who heads up the national medical negligence practice at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, says the study aligns closely with the real-world view she and her team sees when dealing with patients that have been harmed by poorly performing doctors.

"I'm not surprised that this important and vast piece of research shows such concerning figures, unfortunately it is quite reflective of the anecdotal evidence we've seen through the hundreds of medical negligence cases that have come to us over the years," Ms Booth said.

"We've also observed enormous secrecy around complaints processes, meaning people feel they won't get answers or an apology unless they go through the legal process. Sometimes people just want an apology; to be sure that the poor conduct is stopped in its tracks.

"It is alarming that only three per cent of doctors account for 50 per cent of the complaints, however, that means there is a great opportunity for the professional regulators.

"This new information should allow the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and others to intensely target that three per cent of repeat offenders, which should in turn, substantially reduce the number of complaints and benefit patient safety.

"The large majority of doctors provide excellent care, so it is in their interests as well as in the interests of public confidence that everything possible is done to weed out poor performers and identify the reasons why they have more complaints against them."

The Melbourne University study, led by Dr Marie Bismark from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, is titled Identification of doctors at risk of recurrent complaints: a national study of healthcare complaints in Australia and is published in the BMJ Journal of Quality and Safety.

Researchers collected information on nearly 19,000 complaints against 10,000 doctors over a decade across seven states and territories. 

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