Objective: To describe the differences in psychological morbidity between Australian general practitioners (GPs) who have experienced a medico-legal matter and those who have not.
Methods: A total of 1,499 GPs were initially invited to participate in the study. Two hundred and sixty requested not to participate, with 1,239 subsequently being sent a survey. There were 566 respondents (45.7% response rate to survey). There were two sources of data. First, a cross-sectional survey sought demographic information, personality traits via the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ), history of a medico-legal matter with any medical defence organization, and measures of psychological morbidity, including the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS), and Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Second, information was extracted from the United Medical Protection database on medico-legal matters.
Results: Fifty-nine per cent of respondents to the survey reported ever having a medico-legal matter, with 13% having a current medico-legal matter. Those with a current matter reported increased levels of disability (in work, social or family life) and higher prevalence of psychiatric morbidity (45% vs 27% GHQ 'case identification' rates), compared to those with no current matter. Those respondents with a history of past medico-legal matters reported increased levels of disability (SDS) and depression subscores (GHQ). Male respondents drank significantly more alcohol than female respondents, and male respondents with current or past medico-legal matters had significantly higher levels of alcohol use than male respondents with no experience of medico-legal matters.
Conclusions: Doctors who have current and past medico-legal matters have a higher level of psychological morbidity. The study design was unable to distinguish cause or effect. A longitudinal study is planned to investigate this. The findings have significant implications for medical training, doctor support systems and medical insurance groups.