Background: The aim of this study was to assess the predictability in the processing of complaints from patients against general practitioners. We also wanted to identify medical issues and situations prone to elicit complaints and possible reactions.
Material and methods: This study includes cases received by the Norwegian Board of Health from county governors during two years (n = 107). One half of the cases consists of complaints that were remitted due to the complainants' objection to county governors' rejections. The other half is cases remitted when county governors assumed that the GP should be given a reaction. In the medico-legal assessment of the cases it was checked whether the guidelines for such cases had been observed.
Results: The guidelines had been observed in all but two cases. The relation between indefensible action and insufficient clinical judgment is highly significant (p < 0.001). This also holds for the relation between reactions following an on call-situation and the general practitioner not having Norwegian as his or hers first language. The handling of female patients leads to significantly less reactions than those of male patients. The county governors' assessments coincided to a limited degree with the assessments made by the Norwegian Board of Health.
Interpretations: The assessments of complaints made against GPs are coherent and predictable and may be a source of learning from mistakes. The relation between reaction following an on call-situation and the GP not having Norwegian as his/hers first language should elicit actions on several levels. The lack of conformity between the county governors and the Norwegian Board of Health in assessing these cases indicates that a two-step processing is not appropriate.