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Clinical treatment most common reason for doctors-in-training to call

08 May 2020 | Avant Media

Graduating from medical school and starting your first role as a trainee is undoubtedly one of the biggest milestones in any doctor’s career, so it’s understandable that many questions may arise on the job. Avant’s Medico-Legal Advisory Service (MLAS) is here to provide support and expert advice, as well as the experience and resources to cover your medico-legal queries. Here’s a look at the summary of calls in the 2019 financial year, as our advisory service received more than 3,000 calls from trainees.

What are most doctors-in-training calling about?

In the 12 months to 30th April 2020 there was a 20% increase in the number of calls MLAS assisted trainees with, compared to 12 months prior. The most common reason for trainees’ calls has been medico-legal questions regarding clinical practice such as medication issues (e.g. vaccination errors, prescribing drugs of dependence) dealing with diagnostic errors and procedural complications and fitness for work assessment obligations.

As a young doctor new to the field, many have found it helpful to have an extra set of ears to offer another perspective. While many callers may have already queried concerns with their attending supervisor, speaking to one of our medico-legal advisers provides additional peace of mind in their decision-making . This is particularly useful, especially if the trainee is under investigation or if a complaint has been made against them.

The second most common reason for trainees to call our team of medical advisers was for employment issues. These calls were about issues such as workplace bullying and harassment, contracts, rate of pay and concerns about performance assessment.

Influx of COVID-related calls in 2020

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an influx of calls. Trainees are concerned about a range of topics – from their wellbeing as doctors, interruption to their training programmes, hesitation with issuing medical certificates, navigating telehealth, and managing difficult patients during a pandemic – to name a few.

Health and wellbeing is understandably at the forefront of trainees’ concerns. Like other healthcare workers, trainees are worried about shortages of PPE and their rights and obligations to treat patients when they feel that they’re inadequately equipped. They’re also concerned about their personal liability and lack of experience and training in dealing with COVID-related cases, and the consequences that may arise from handling these issues.

There has been a surge in requests for medical certificates due to COVID-19 and trainees have sought our advice when they have been unsure of how to respond to the patient, particularly when the situation may not necessarily warrant a certificate. There have been also queries about the medico-legal obligation to report patients suspected of having COVID- 19 who refuse to get tested or self-isolate.

With the recent expansion of MBS item numbers for telehealth trainees have requested advice on how to navigate this new frontier and the medico-legal risks involved. Some trainees have been asked to step up to a higher role due to staff shortages as a result of COVID-19 and sought advice and support where they have been unsure of their medico-legal obligations in these roles.

Useful information

For the latest information on COVID-19 matters, please visit our FAQs.

To help manage the difficult situations trainees may face, we have a wealth of useful information on our website. Download our When patients complain handbook for information on how to deal with and resolve patient complaints. For more information on open disclosure download our factsheet Open disclosure: how to say sorry.

Doctors can find information on many of the issues members call us about on our website. Our medical advisers can be contacted via email nca@avant.org.au or if you require immediate advice, call 1800 128 268.

Our advisory line is staffed by a dedicated team of medical advisers, solicitors and claims managers to provide members with personalised support – available 24/7 in emergencies. In response to the increased calls from members, we have expanded our advisory service to have more experts dedicated to providing advice and support across our state offices. They are part of the largest medico-legal team of any MDO in Australia.

What do you think is driving MLAS call trends?

We value your comments and we would love to know what factors you think are responsible for driving the call trends highlighted in this article. Contact the editor@avant.org.au with your thoughts.

The information in this article 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 practice proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this information must exercise their own independent skill or judgment 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. Professional Indemnity Products are issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765.

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