General practitioners' perceptions of medicolegal risk. Using case scenarios to assess the potential impact of prostate cancer screening guidelines

Med J Aust. 1999 Oct 4;171(7):362-6. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.1999.tb123693.x.


Objective: To ascertain general practitioners' perceptions of medicolegal risk when screening for prostate cancer, and explore the potential impact of three national guidelines on perceptions and clinical practice.

Design: Postal survey in August 1997.

Participants: 219 randomly selected GPs in New South Wales (65% response rate).

Main outcome measures: Response to case scenarios; perceptions of medicolegal risk and protection afforded by national guidelines before and after reading extracts of three national guidelines; ratings of current and potential strategies to increase GPs' sense of medicolegal protection.

Results: 90% (95% CI, 86.5%-94.3%) would screen an asymptomatic male patient and 61% (95% CI, 54.2%-67.2%) indicated GPs would be at risk if they did not screen. Although significant changes in responses were found after respondents had read guideline extracts, 46% (95% CI, 39.5%-52.7%) continued to perceive medicolegal risk if screening was not performed. About two-thirds (65%; 95% CI, 59.9%-72.5%) supported a clear statement about the legal status of guidelines in a court of law to increase their sense of medicolegal protection.

Conclusions: Even when made aware of national evidence-based guidelines against prostate cancer screening, GPs in our survey perceived limited hypothetical medicolegal protection.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Australia
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*