Significant rise in calls from physicians for advice about medical records

Jun 21, 2017

Have you ever wondered what type of medico-legal issues your colleagues grapple with and require urgent advice on? Analysis of calls to our Medico-legal Advisory Service (MLAS) highlights the subjects physicians contact us on.

Last year, our advisory service received more than 14,000 calls from specialist members – with over 1,900 coming from physicians. It’s unsurprising the MLAS was rated as our most highly valued service by members in our 2016 annual member survey.

There were 285 calls per 1000 members to our advisory service from physicians last year, up 11% on previous years^.  

Ruanne Brell, a Medico-legal Advisor with Avant’s MLAS, suggested the increase in MLAS calls by physician members is partially due to the increasing complexity of the issues faced in day-to-day practice, increased patient expectations and the subsequent demands on physicians.

So what are physicians calling about?

Complaints against physician members are the most common matter, accounting for 19% of calls. This was followed by medico-legal issues relating to clinical treatment (13% of calls) and medical records (9% of calls), respectively.

Medical record calls on the rise

One of the topics responsible for driving the increase in calls is medical records. The frequency of calls from physician members on this matter increased 31%^. Some of the issues include requests for the release of medical records to patients and third parties, advice about payment for providing records and reports, and advice on what doctors should record in their medical notes when a patient has asked that it isn’t documented.



Disciplinary and informal complaints

The most common reason for physicians calling the MLAS regarded complaints made against them, both formally and informally (where the complaint has not been made to a regulatory authority). These calls increased in frequency by 12%^.

This was reflected in our claims data which shows that 52% of all physician claims related to complaints made to regulatory authorities, in 2015–16. Last year, our advisory service received 358 calls from physician members related to complaints, which was largely driven by disciplinary complaints (227 calls). This trend was reflected across all specialties with calls relating to complaints about doctors being the most common issue last year ­­– increasing in frequency by 7%^.

Disciplinary complaints include conduct, performance and health impairment concerns and commonly relate to dissatisfaction with treatment outcomes and communication issues for physician members.

‘In our experience, if given the opportunity, addressing a direct patient complaint promptly can resolve many concerns before they are escalated to the relevant authority,’ Ms Brell said.

Significant increase in calls related to coronial matters

Calls to our advisory service from physician members regarding coronial matters accounted for the largest percentage increase in calls, up 55%.^ These calls could include queries about whether a death is reportable to the coroner to requests for formal statements for coronial inquest.

Useful information

To help manage the difficult situations physicians 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 disclosurecomplete our eLearning course or download our factsheet Open disclosure: how to say sorry.  

Understand your responsibilities – read our factsheet Providing medical records to a third party.

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

Our advisory line is staffed by a dedicated team of medical advisors, 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.

^The increase is for 2016 over the average of the past three years.

What do you think is driving our 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.

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