Aim: To analyse the incidence and characteristics of medical complaints received by doctors in New Zealand.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of New Zealand doctors randomly selected from each of three groups from the New Zealand medical register: vocationally registered general practitioners; vocationally registered hospital-based specialists; and general registrants.
Results: Nine hundred and seventy one doctors (11% of registered New Zealand doctors) indicated that 34% had ever received a medical complaint, and 66% had never received one. The rate of complaint in New Zealand is rising. The annual rate of complaint in 2000 was 5.7%, with doctors in the 40-60 age group receiving 68% of complaints. Doctors who were male, vocationally registered general practitioners, and holding higher postgraduate qualifications were more likely to receive a complaint. Time to resolution of a complaint is long, with 74% of dismissed and 59% of upheld complaints being resolved within 12 months.
Conclusions: This study finds a high incidence of complaint in New Zealand. It finds differences between doctors based on gender, qualification, and field of practice, and suggests that responsibility for patient care may be an important determinant of the risk of receiving a complaint.