• How to look after yourself

    At Avant we aim to make this process as straightforward as we can for you. However we recognise that it can be extremely confronting to receive a complaint, and you should not underestimate how stressful this can be for you and your family, particularly if the complaint proceeds to an investigation.

    Your claims manager and lawyer are available to answer any questions you might have about your matter or the process involved.

    Disciplinary matters are time-consuming and can take months or even years to resolve. It is critical that you look after yourself, and your family, through the process of dealing with a claim. Our section on “Dealing with the stress of a claim or complaint” provides tips on how to look after yourself during this process.

    Contact the Avant Medico-legal Advisory Service for further advice. You can also contact Avant’s Personal Support Program for confidential counselling.

    Cautionary Tale

    Member Story


    On Trial – A Member’s Story

    “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K, for he knew he had done nothing wrong, but one morning he was arrested.”[1]             

    The opening line above, one of the best in my view, is from Kafka’s famous novel 'The Trial' in which a man is prosecuted for a crime unknown to him by a distant authority. It resonates strongly for me because I too have had a similar Kafkaesque experience.

    On Christmas Eve I received an e-mail from ‘the Commission’ sent to my lawyer titled ‘Another complaint’ – as if a random second complaint had arrived, along with the usual preamble of ‘have a great holiday’ season.

    I was somewhat prepared for this message as I had previously received a request for notes from the lawyer acting for the two patients.

    I read the complaints, one made eleven months after the procedure I had performed and one two-and-a-half years after. The words ‘third world practice’ stood out to me in the complaint, comments apparently made by the specialist the two patients had since seen.

    I was, in fact, born in the third world. However, I went to school in a developed country and I attended medical school in London. I also did my postgraduate training in the United Kingdom. I certainly felt a theme of xenophobia in the complaints, which included ‘the doctor should not be practising in Australia’.

    I had no idea what to expect, and, until a few days prior to the meeting with the Medical Board, I had no idea what the basis of the patients’ concerns were. It transpired that the Medical Board was concerned the procedures had been performed in a small country private hospital.

    The meeting with the Medical Board (while somewhat nerve racking) was pretty straightforward. I explained the private hospital was well staffed, had a high dependency unit and performed major surgery regularly. I was questioned at length about the clinical management of both cases. I answered with simple facts, relaying findings, investigations and treatments. Some questions seemed a bit left field but I answered them politely.

    The eventual findings were that my management of these two cases was competent and diligent. The whole process took eighteen months and I spent many hours pouring over patient notes feeling under attack during that time.

    Being the recipient of a complaint, while rare (two complaints in five years), is distressing. In retrospect, and considering the outcome, I probably wasted a lot of emotional energy.

    However, it is hard not to dwell on complaints, especially when you know you have done your best. Thankfully I continue to run a successful practice with a very low complication rate. I keep good notes, have regular surgical audits, and keep evidence of the informed consent process.

    When I reflect back on the eighteen months, it was the lack of information from the Medical Board that caused the most stress. My advice to other doctors would be to try and find out early what the concerns are and address them.

    Remember, complications do occur and in our current medico-legal environment these can result in a complaint. Josef K had done nothing wrong and the likelihood is neither have you.

    1. Franz Kafka, The Trial. Berlin. Die Schmiede. 1925

    This member story is the work of the author and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Avant Mutual Group Limited and its subsidiaries.