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New Code of Conduct: section on vexatious complaints added

26 October 2020 | Avant Media

The Medical Board of Australia has updated its Good Medical Practice – A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia, which came into effect on 1 October 2020.

Under the new code, the Medical Board may now take regulatory action against a doctor if a notification about another health practitioner under the guise of the mandatory reporting scheme, is found to be vexatious.

“Legitimate complaints are motivated by genuine concerns about patient safety. Vexatious complaints lack substance and have other motivations. They are often characterised by an intention to protect commercial interests and/or cause harm to another health practitioner, instead of a genuine concern about patient safety,” the code states.

This section stipulates that good medical practice involves:

  • Raising genuine concerns about risks to patient safety to the appropriate authority (locally and/or the Medical Board) and complying with mandatory reporting requirements.
  • Not making vexatious complaints about other doctors.

The improper use of the complaints process has been an ongoing issue for Avant members for several years. We welcomed the inclusion of this section in our submission as our experience indicates inter and intra-professional disputes, including trainee and supervisor disputes, can result in vexatious complaints.

The code is an important document as it sets the standard against which a doctor’s practice will be evaluated and non–compliance can lead to disciplinary action. With that in mind, we have summarised the other key new requirements for members.

Public comments

Under this new section, doctors need to consider the boundary between their personal and public profile. This includes considering the “effect of your public comments and your actions outside work, including online, related to medical and clinical issues, and how they reflect on your role as a doctor and on the reputation of the profession.”

Discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment

The changes are designed to strengthen guidance about discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment in the medical profession.

It states there is no place for discrimination (including racism), bullying and sexual harassment in the medical profession or in healthcare in Australia. The section discusses what good medical practice involves in this area, and emphasises management of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment requires a “timely, proportionate and fair response.” This includes having a zero tolerance for discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.

Care for close contacts

Under the new clauses, doctors must not prescribe Schedule 8, psychotropic medication and/or drugs of dependence or perform elective surgery, to anyone with whom they have a close personal relationship.

Clinically recognised treatment

This section emphasises only recommending treatments when there is an identified therapeutic need and/or a clinically recognised treatment, and a reasonable expectation of clinical efficacy and benefit for the patient.

Doctors are also required to inform patients when their personal opinion (in the context of practice) does not align with the profession’s generally held views.

Career transitions

This new section reinforces forward planning and management when changing the scope of your practice, making career transitions and transitioning to retirement. It highlights the Board’s recency of practice registration standard sets out the requirements for doctors who are changing their scope of practice and that good practice involves:

  • Acknowledging that professional performance may be affected by multiple factors, including increasing age and practice context, and being mindful of how these may affect your performance.
  • Actively planning for a successful transition to different roles or retirement.

Medical records

Under the new requirements, doctors must date any changes and additions to medical records, including when the record is electronic.

Records must also be retained for the period required by law and destroyed securely when they are no longer required.

Cultural safety

This section has been expanded to ensure doctors understand their responsibility to provide care that is culturally safe, respectful and supports the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and all communities.

End-of-life care

This new section requires sensitively discussing and encouraging organ and tissue donation with the patient’s family, when appropriate and consistent with legislation and accepted protocols.

Useful resources

Good Medical Practice – A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia 

If you have any questions about your obligations under the new code, please contact us for medico-legal advice on nca@avant.org.au or call 1800 128 268, 24/7 in emergencies.

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