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Practitioner wellbeing: limiting the impact of notifications

At Avant, we regularly see the significant impact that complaints from patients can have on a medical practitioner. Doctors want to do the best for their patients and receiving a complaint can be confronting and distressing, as well as cause anxiety about loss of reputation, income or career.

Dr Michael Wright, MBBS, MSc, PhD, FRACGP, GAICD, General Practitioner and Chief Medical Officer, Avant

Monday, 1 July 2024

practitioner-wellbeing-limiting-the-impact-of-notifications

At Avant, we regularly see the significant impact that complaints from patients can have on a medical practitioner. Doctors want to do the best for their patients and receiving a complaint can be confronting and distressing, as well as cause anxiety about loss of reputation, income or career.

Although the majority of complaints Ahpra investigates result in ‘no further action’, they can have a devastating effect on a practitioner’s self‑confidence and health.

More than half of all Australian doctors are Avant members, and we want to make sure their opinions are well-represented in discussions on issues that concern them.

For these reasons, I felt hopeful when I was recently invited to speak at a symposium facilitated by Ahpra and the National Boards on the impact of complaints on practitioner wellbeing.

The focus was on minimising the distress associated with the notification process, with attending stakeholders invited to discuss the reasons for practitioner anxiety when involved in a regulatory process.

The participants in the symposium – which included regulators, doctors’ health organisations and medical colleges – were all committed to help lessen the high level of distress experienced by many healthcare practitioners when under investigation.

A recently published study1 described the “virtually daily grief” reported by many practitioners involved in the regulatory complaints process. This is something Avant regularly sees members experience, which we are keen to work with Ahpra to minimise.

One of the issues our members raise is their fear about losing their registration because of a complaint. If they receive a notification and have these concerns, we encourage members to call us. In most cases we can reassure them this outcome is very unlikely.

At the symposium, it was agreed that one of the most effective tools to combat distress is clear information and transparency about the notifications process. In particular, explaining how the regulatory system operates and what to expect if a notification is received.

Another issue doctors report is their distress about the uncertainty and unpredictable timing of the regulatory process. Ahpra described its efforts to better communicate throughout the process and their attempts to reduce timeframes for dealing with notifications.

Future education will likely focus on students and early career doctors to ensure they understand how the system works before they experience a notification. It is hoped that if practitioners are familiar with the process at an early stage and understand that most cases Ahpra investigate result in no further action, the impact of receiving a notification will be reduced.

Avant has worked for many years highlighting the impact of complaints on doctors, and regularly provides feedback to regulators about our members’ experiences. Participating in this symposium, with a group of like-minded stakeholders, is one step forward in lessening the “daily grief” for our medical workforce.

I am optimistic improvements can be made to better support doctors who have a complaint, while still ensuring an effective process to keep patients safe. This work is ongoing, but it’s heartening to know we are all committed to make going through a complaint better for medical practitioners. In the meantime, if you are concerned about a notification – or any other medico-legal issue – call us on 1800 128 268.

More information

For medico-legal advice, please contact us on nca@avant.org.au or call 1800 128 268, 24/7 in emergencies.

1 Biggar et al, International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 26 September 202

This article was originally published in Connect magazine issue 22.


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IMPORTANT:
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.

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