The bulk of patient complaints in Australia are directed against the same small group of repeat offenders, a new study has found. The report discovered that just 3 per cent of doctors account for nearly half of all registered complaints. The paper also identifies the risk factors that point towards a complaint-prone doctor.
Patient picture from Shutterstock
Over the course of the study, researchers from the universities of Melbourne and Queensland worked with health complaints commissioners in all states to analyse the 18,907 complaints made against Australian doctors in the past decade. The nature of the complaints ranged from diagnosis concerns to poor communication skills and bad attitude/manner.
The distribution of complaints among doctors was highly skewed: 3% of Australia’s medical workforce accounted for 49% of complaints and 1% accounted for a quarter of complaints.
To put it another way, less than 500 doctors have managed to amass an incredible 4,726 complaints over the past decade.
The strongest predictor of doctors’ risk of future complaints was the number of complaints they had previously had, along with specialty and male gender. Compared with general practitioners, plastic surgeons had twice the risk, and risks were approximately 50% higher among dermatologists and obstetrician-gynecologists.
Male doctors, meanwhile, had a 40 per cent higher risk of recurrence than their female colleagues. Repeat offenders were also more likely to be over the age of 35, with a 30-40 per cent higher risk of complaint recurrence. So if you want to avoid dodgy doctors, your best bet appears to be a female general practitioner under 35. We imagine this is a somewhat rare commodity.
The report concludes that the study could form the basis of new strategies for improving the quality and safety of health care. Via preventative mediation, it would also allow medical boards to avoid lawsuits before they happen.
Widespread use of this approach to identify high-risk doctors and target quality improvement efforts coupled with effective interventions, could help reduce adverse events and patient dissatisfaction in health systems. Immediate steps to improve, guide or constrain the care being provided by these ‘high-risk’ practitioners could be a very cost-effective way to advance quality and safety, and produce measurable benefits at the system level.
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