Australian doctors' involvement in medicolegal matters: a cross-sectional self-report study

Med J Aust. 2009 Oct 19;191(8):436-40. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb02879.x.


Objective: To investigate the frequency of, and factors associated with, Australian doctors' involvement in medicolegal matters.

Design, setting and participants: Cross-sectional survey of Australian doctors (specialists, trainees and general practitioners) insured with the medical insurance company Avant. A self-report questionnaire was mailed to Avant members in September 2007 to gather data on their involvement in medicolegal matters. Information on psychiatric morbidity and alcohol consumption was also collected using the General Health Questionnaire and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.

Main outcome measures: Occurrence and type of past and current medicolegal matters with which doctors have been involved.

Results: Of 8500 doctors invited to participate, 2999 returned completed surveys (36% response rate). Sixty-five per cent of respondents had been involved in a medicolegal matter at some time, and 14% were involved in a current matter. The two most common types of medicolegal matter were claims for compensation and complaints to a health care complaints body. Doctors were more likely to be involved in medicolegal matters if they were male, worked in high-intervention areas of medicine (surgery and obstretics/gynaecology), and worked longer hours.

Conclusion: Our study concurs with other studies in finding an association between medicolegal matters and being male, working long hours and working in high-intervention areas of medicine. Unlike other studies, we found no association between age and involvement in a current medicolegal matter. Our findings also pose the question of whether psychiatric morbidity in doctors is a cause or effect of the medicolegal process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liability, Legal*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician Impairment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physicians
  • Sex Distribution