Shonky doctors who put patients at risk face crackdown

Photo: The revalidation process is designed to manage risk to patients (Reuters)

Dangerous doctors who pose a risk to patients could be forced to face a panel of their own peers to explain their poor behaviour.

The suggestion is part of the Medical Board’s discussion paper designed to ensure doctors’ skills remain up to date so they are fit to practice medicine, a process called revalidation.

The chair of the Medical Board, Dr Joanna Flynn, said the process was designed to keep the public safe and manage risk to patients.

“Part of this involves making sure that medical practitioners keep their skills and knowledge up to date,” she said.

“We are committed to finding the most practical and effective way to do this that is tailored to the Australian healthcare environment.”

Medical practitioners who may pose more serious risk would have to take part in intensive peer-mediated sessions as well as having their medical records and performance in practice reviewed.

“Developing accurate indicators to identify ‘at risk’ medical practitioners and intervening early has the potential to improve patient safety … and reduce the adverse impacts of patient complaints on complainants and medical practitioners,” an expert advisory committee found.

The committee found a better safety net was needed to identify and assist doctors who demonstrated performance below accepted standards.

The changes follow a number of disturbing cases highlighted by the ABC where patients suffered poor outcomes and life-threatening complications after undergoing procedures by cosmetic surgeons.

Factors that can influence poor performance in a medical practitioner include:

  1. -Their age (from 35 years, increasing into middle and older age)
  2. -Being male
  3. -The number of prior complaints
  4. -Having a primary medical qualification acquired in some countries of origin
  5. -Their specialty
  6. -A lack of response to feedback
  7. -Unrecognised cognitive impairment
  8. -Practising in isolation from peers or outside an organisation
  9. -Change in scope of practice

Dr Flynn said it was critical to develop accurate and reliable ways to identify practitioners at risk of poor performance and remediate them early.

“Most of the practitioners in the at-risk groups will be able to demonstrate that they are performing satisfactorily, just as most people who are screened in a public health intervention do not have the disease for which the screening program is testing,” Dr Flynn said.

The Medical Board would use the input of peers, colleagues, co-workers and patients to detect medical practitioners at risk of poor performance.

Doctors would also be encouraged to undertake more evidence-based continuing professional development to keep their skills up-to-date.

More details about the revalidation process can be found on the Medical Board’s website.