The Medical Board of Australia has backed down on its policy of publicly listing complaints made against individual doctors regardless of their innocence.
An outcry against the plan, which one medical defence organisation described as “unfair and punitive” has led to the Board compromising and agreeing to only put links to tribunal cases on a doctor’s medical register entry when there has been an adverse finding made against a doctor.
In early 2018 the Board announced that in the interests of transparency the AHPRA Register of Practitioners would start to include web links on a doctor’s entry to all tribunal decisions and court rulings about that practitioner.
The move was in line with recommendations from an independent review into the use of chaperones and handling of sexual misconduct allegations against doctors.
AHPRA noted that only a small proportion – about 100 – of the 6,000 complaints (notifications) made annually about doctors proceed to a tribunal hearing. Of these, around 75% lead to no further regulatory action and the rest involve cautions or restrictions on registration aimed at protecting the public and managing risk to patients.
But the decision to list all tribunal hearings for an individual practitioner triggered opposition from medical defence organisations, medical colleges and a petition signed by more than 600 practitioners.
“We believe it is unfair and punitive, particularly for practitioners with no adverse findings against them. The Board has indicated that “no adverse finding” will be noted on the register in relevant cases, but we are concerned this will be misinterpreted or misunderstood,” said medical defence firm Avant in a statement.
“The risk is that allegations will be given more weight than the findings, further exacerbating the impact on practitioners including possible reputational damage and adversely impact health and wellbeing.”
Dr Evan Ackermann, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care said that AHPRA’s naming and shaming of doctors with no adverse findings against them was crossing a line in the sand.
“Perception, as we know, is often reality. Mud sticks, particularly in a professional sense, and doctors risk having something vital to their professional lives – their reputation – continually questioned when they have their name included in any suggestion of professional misconduct,” he wrote.
“Being found innocent after legal proceedings should afford the practitioner legal rights, otherwise the law becomes meaningless. If a patient researches a doctor and discovers that an investigation took place, that doctor becomes a target for vexatious complaints, scuttlebutt and rumour.
On 27 July the Medical Board announced it had ‘refined” the policy and would now only publish links to serious disciplinary decisions by courts and tribunals on the public register of practitioners when there has been an adverse finding against the doctor.
“[The Board] has changed its position after listening to advice from many doctors and other stakeholders that this was not fair when no adverse finding had been made about the doctor,” said Chair of the Medical Board of Australia, Dr Joanna Flynn AM.
The decision struck a good balance between transparency and fairness, she added.
The Medical Board has removed links to several tribunal decisions in which there was no adverse finding about the doctor that had been published on the register since March 2018.