Is Caretrack a road map to better patient safety?

10 October 2012

By Sarah Atkinson

The CareTrack study and associated articles published the Medical Journal of Australia in July has aroused a great deal of debate about the standard of care received by patients. In some quarters it has also attracted criticism for being methodologically flawed.

National program

CareTrack Australia is part of a National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funded program that is examining the appropriateness of the care provided in Australia for 22 common conditions. It found wide discrepancies between the level of appropriate care provided among the study participants.

Regardless of the controversy around the study and its methodology, any project that aims to improve patient safety should be welcomed.

This is important research as it outlines the urgent need for a much better understanding of what constitutes appropriate care for patients. It will provide a road map for future development of clinical standards.

Varying standards of health care

Medical professionals have a difficult job trying to keep up-to-date with best practice and what is considered acceptable care, and unfortunately a failure to do this is one of the reasons why too many Australians receive health care that is well below expected standards.

The CareTrack study has rightly highlighted the need for agreement at a national level about what comprises best practice in key areas, particularly the need for one set of accepted standards and routine monitoring of health care. As lawyers in the medical field that see poor outcomes, we hope that this will lead to much better care for patients.

Poor outcome not always a medical law issue

Medical law issues occur when the treatment provided by a health service provider (such as a hospital, doctor, dentist, pharmacist, etc) falls below an acceptable standard.

A poor outcome for a patient will not always mean there has been negligent care.  A set of agreed standards would also make it easier to prove or disprove allegations of medical negligence made by health care users.

The study also highlights that more thorough auditing of doctors is required to ensure they adhere to the latest best practice standards in providing care.