“I also think there has been a COVID effect where complaints are related to restrictions or delays in accessing care.”
AHPRA’s director of communications Matthew Hardy said about 1,300 complaints had a “COVID element”.
‘So would we [have scenarios where] there was a media report that a suburban practitioner was handing out exemption certificates and the next day we received 100 complaints from members of the public who had read the article or seen queues outside the clinic,’ Hardy said.
Bismark said doctors would often be the subject of a complaint even if other practitioners were involved in that patient’s care, which was partly responsible for the high rate of complaints compared to other practitioners.
Another possible explanation is the greater potential for harm, she said.
“If you’re performing surgery or prescribing medications or making a life-and-death diagnosis, you’re more likely to have bigger side effects than if you’re a podiatrist or osteopath,” Bismark said.
There’s also a perception that some other health professions are more patient-centered, Bismark said.
Nurses received fewer complaints (1940), despite the fact that they were almost four to one in the majority.
“Very often the reason things go to AHPRA is not because of the mistake that was made, but because people tried to raise it [with their doctor] they felt like they were being held back or ignored or fired or condescended to,” Bismark said.
No further action was taken for most of the complaints against physicians that were closed during the year.
Bismark said very few complaints were frivolous or vexatious, but AHPRA’s threshold for responding to a complaint is if a practitioner poses a risk to public safety.
For example, a doctor may respond to a complaint by notifying the regulatory body that they accept that an error has been made and have taken steps to ensure it does not happen again.
“If AHPRA doesn’t take formal action, it doesn’t mean nothing bad happened [to a patient] it just means AHPRA doesn’t need to take any action to protect the public because the doctor has already done whatever it takes,” she said.
Just under a third of complaints against doctors were referred to another body or health complaints body, such as NSW’s Health Care Complaints Commission, 5.5 per cent resulted in conditions being imposed on doctors’ registration, 3.6 per cent were given a warning or reprimand, and 0.8 percent resulted in the physician surrendering or suspending or canceling his enrollment to practice medicine.
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