Medical board unveils fast-track system for resolving trivial complaints

By Geir O'Rourke

1 Aug 2022

The Medical Board of Australia is promising to dismiss any trivial complaint against a doctor within six weeks of receiving it under reforms to triage low-risk notifications.

With the new fast-track system due to commence within weeks, Board chair Dr Anne Tonkin says she has already begun setting up a dedicated committee which will be empowered to quickly assess any complaints after they are submitted to AHPRA.

Cases identified by the committee as clearly lacking in substance – as many as 80% of the total – will then be thrown out immediately.

“So we will be able to identify those very low level ones, get them through a committee very quickly, and have them out of the system within 4-6 weeks,” she told the AMA national conference on Friday.

“And I’m hoping that over the next six months or so we’ll start to see that the overall timeframes we are dealing with start to decline dramatically.”

The shake-up comes amid growing concern about the impact of the notification process on doctors, coupled with a sharp rise in complaints to the regulator.

Despite a minor dip in the early years of the pandemic, these had lifted from under 4,000 in 2017-18 to some 6,250 last financial year – many of them “low-risk”, Dr Tonkin said.

“These are the ones that come in and everyone can see right from the beginning, that they don’t represent a risk to the public and we don’t need to take regulatory action.”

She stressed that these should comprise the bulk of cases, with just a fifth of those currently coming before the board currently resulting in any regulatory action.

“So 80% of them don’t need anything. And we need to get those 80% out of the system as quickly as we can,” she said.

“Because we know that the longer we take to get the matter through to its completion, the more stressed the person whose been notified about will be.”

“And in the vast majority of cases they don’t deserve to be under any stress because they haven’t done anything wrong. The patient has misunderstood, or there has been a communication breakdown, or it’s just a patient who was having a bad day.”

A GP based in Sydney, Dr Tonkin gave a recent example of a patient who had made a complaint to AHPRA because they were unhappy that their doctor had arrived eight minutes late for an appointment, holding a takeaway coffee.

“That kind of thing clogs up our system,” she said.

“But once we’ve received it, under legislation, we are bound to do something with it, which is why we are setting up the national committee triage.”

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