On March 1 2020, the law on mandatory notification of health practitioners will change to encourage health practitioners to seek help when they need it, without fear of being reported to Ahpra.
In the lead up to this change, we surveyed our members to gauge their awareness of the law, the coming changes and aspects of the legislation they wanted to learn more about1. Over 300 members across a broad range of specialities responded and as anticipated, the results revealed most (88%) were aware of the law on mandatory notification of health practitioners. However, among those who were aware, 60% were unaware the requirements for treating-practitioners reporting their patient-practitioners were about to change, in all states and territories except Western Australia.
Asking more specifically about the four types of notifiable conduct – sexual misconduct, intoxication by alcohol or drugs, impairment and significant departure from accepted professional standards – revealed some were better understood than others.
Of those aware of the mandatory notification law, only half also said they had a ‘good’ or ‘complete’ understanding of the reporting requirements for impairment. Similar levels of understanding were seen for reporting significant departure from accepted professional standards.
Respondents were much more confident in understanding the reporting requirements for sexual misconduct and intoxication.
Health issues rarely need reporting
Although the majority of respondents were unaware the law was about to change, the survey indicates that those who were aware also understood there would be a higher threshold for reporting impairment. This is encouraging, as it suggests the message that health issues rarely need reporting is understood by those who have heard it. The challenge, however, is to reach the large percentage of doctors who are unaware of the changes.
“The change in the law is an opportunity for practitioners to revisit and become familiar with the new requirements”, Rocky Ruperto, Avant’s Legal and Policy Officer, said. Ahpra and Avant have both created resources to help doctors understand their obligations in the clinical context.
“It is important all health practitioners seek medical and other healthcare when they need it, without fear of being reported to Ahpra”, Mr Ruperto said. “Health issues rarely need reporting. For a treating-doctor to report another practitioner for impairment, their level of concern must be very high.”
Doctors keen to learn more
Respondents showed a strong interest in updating their knowledge. Almost all said they would like to learn more, particularly in the areas of conduct requiring notification, exemptions from mandatory reporting and different reporting requirements for treating practitioners, non-treating practitioners and employers. Respondents also wanted to know more about the difference between ‘illness’ and ‘impairment’.
Most mandatory notifications to Ahpra relate to a significant departure from professional standards2. However, the survey results showed a lower level of understanding of reporting a departure from professional standards. This suggests a need for further education in this area.
Resources: understanding your obligations
Ahpra’s new resources:
If you require advice on your obligations in relation to mandatory notifications, visit our website or for immediate medico-legal advice call us on 1800 128 268, 24/7 in emergencies.
1Member survey: How well do you understand the laws on mandatory reporting of health practitioners? opened in mid-December, 2019 and closed on 9 January, 2020.
2Ahpra’s 2018/19 Annual Report.