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75% of doctors practice defensive medicine to avoid claims: survey

Survey shows doctors fearing patient complaints and claims – or negative media coverage of the medical profession – have changed the way they practice medicine.

THREE IN FOUR DOCTORS SAY they practice “defensive medicine” and avoid performing complicated procedures to prevent complaints and claims, according to a survey by the Medical Protection Society (MPS).

Seventy-four per cent of those said that fear of media criticism of their profession was a contributory factor in avoiding complaints, instead of aiming to further their patient’s diagnosis.

MPS surveyed 450 doctors among its members across Ireland.

Overall, 62% of doctors said they kept more detailed records and 61% were more careful about making follow-up arrangements for patients because of fear of claims or complaints about their treatment.

The director of policy and communications at MPS, Dr Stephanie Brown, said that poor communication between doctors and patients was a higher factor than substandard care.

Brown said that because medicine is not risk-free, doctors cannot always guarantee a successful outcome for their patients.

“But,” she said, “if you have managed your patient’s treatment appropriately and communicated effectively from the beginning, and documented this, it will reduce the risk of the patient bringing a successful complaint or claim”.

She said doctors should always do the best for their patients and “be prepared to justify their actions” regardless of their concerns about negative media coverage.

Although 70% of survey respondents said they were worried that a complaint would lead to an investigation, just 8% had actually been involved in an investigation.