Disrespect toward patients: Insights to reduce risk

Summary: What are the main concerns driving claims involving disrespect toward patients? Find out the underlying themes and insights to reduce your risk of these types of claims, in our analysis.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Key messages

  • Disrespect toward patients, particularly in communication, is an allegation or concern that is commonly raised in claims.
  • The frequency of this concern demonstrates the value patients place on their interactions with doctors.
  • The results highlight the necessity of keeping thorough patient records to assist you should you face a complaint. This may be particularly helpful if you are unable or unwilling to provide what the patient has requested.

1 in 8 claims involved disrespect toward patients

In most of these claims, concerns about disrespect
were secondary to another issue.

  • Claims often involve more than one issue.
  • In four-fifths of claims involving disrespect toward patients, the
    primary focus was on another issue (e.g. patient management
    or treatment, diagnosis).

Disrespectful communication was a common
concern in these claims.

  • In claims involving disrespect toward patients, disrespectful
    communication was the most common concern (e.g. the
    patient felt the doctor spoke rudely to them or ignored them).
  • The doctor's attitude or manner was also a concern (e.g. the
    patient thought the doctor was arrogant or inconsiderate).

Allegations of disrespect were common in claims focused
on patients' requests/preferences not being met.

  • In claims primarily focused on patients not having their requests or
    preferences met, a secondary allegation of disrespect was more than
    twice as common than in claims focused on other issues.
  • Of the claims with both these issues:
    - most centred on provision of a treatment plan (e.g. a mental
    health care plan), prescribing (especially drugs of dependence),
    or assessments of capacity/illness (e.g. medical certificates).
    - none had the primary issue or the allegation of disrespect
    substantiated in the subsequent medico-legal review.

About this analysis

This report is based on our analysis of the underlying themes in 3,089 indemnity claims, including complaints to regulators and compensation claims for Avant member doctors from all specialties, finalised between July 2019 and June 2020.

There were 386 claims involving disrespect toward patients; the vast majority were complaints to regulators.

Claims were classified as involving disrespect if the main issue alleged, secondary allegations and/or contributing factors in the claim included a concern about a doctor's lack of respect or consideration for a patient's values, preferences, autonomy, expressed needs, comfort and/or quality of life and/or disrespectful communication with a patient.

There were 278 claims classified as being primarily about a patient's requests or preferences not being met and 2,729 claims classified as being primarily about other issues (not including the 82 claims for which disrespect toward patients was the primary issue).

For any queries please contact us at research@avant.org.au

More Resources

For articles, factsheets, case studies and other resources on a range of topics, visit the Avant Learning Centre.

Download claims insights

Disrespect toward patients - Insights to reduce risk (PDF)


IMPORTANT: Avant routinely codes information collected in the course of assisting member doctors in medico-legal matters into a standardised, deidentified dataset. This retrospective analysis was conducted using this dataset. The findings represent the experience of these doctors in the period of time specified, which may not reflect the experience of all doctors in Australia. This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision-making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published (June 2021). © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2021.

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