Medicolegal concerns are affecting how Australian doctors practise medicine, according to an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Louise Nash, coordinator of the postgraduate course in Psychiatry and Master of Psychiatry at the New South Wales Institute of Psychiatry, Sydney, and co-authors conducted a survey of Australian doctors to explore the perceived impact of medicolegal concerns on how they practise medicine, and to compare doctors who have experienced a medicolegal matter with those who have not.
AdvertisementDr Nash said that medicolegal concerns can prompt changes to the practice of medicine that could be beneficial and detrimental to patient care.
The study identified a link between changes in doctors' practice of medicine and medicolegal concerns. Forty-three per cent of doctors indicated that they referred patients to specialists more than usual, 55 per cent stated that they ordered tests more than usual, and 11 per cent stated that they prescribed more medications than usual due to these concerns.
Concerns for medicolegal issues led to 33 per cent of doctors considering giving up medicine, 32 per cent considering reducing their working hours, and 40 per cent considering early retirement. These proportions were all significantly higher for doctors who had previously experienced a medicolegal matter compared with those who had not.
Respondents also reported improved communication of risk to patients (66 per cent), increased disclosure of uncertainty (44 per cent), development of better systems for tracking results (48 per cent), better methods for identifying non-attendees (39 per cent), and better methods for auditing clinical practice (35 per cent).
Dr Nash said that targeted training in patient safety and medicolegal aspects of medical practice would help doctors to be better informed and to better understand how such issues influence their judgement and decision-making.
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.
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