Objective: To assess the attitudes of health care professionals engaged in open disclosure (OD) to the legal risks and protections that surround this activity.
Design and participants: National cross-sectional survey of 51 experienced OD practitioners conducted in mid 2009.
Main outcome measures: Perceived barriers to OD; awareness of and attitudes towards medicolegal protections; recommendations for reform.
Results: The vast majority of participants rated fears about the medicolegal risks (45/51) and inadequate education and training in OD skills (43/51) as major or moderate barriers to OD. A majority (30/51) of participants viewed qualified privilege laws as having limited or no effect on health professionals' willingness to conduct OD, whereas opinion was divided about the effect of apology laws (state laws protecting expressions of regret from subsequent use in legal proceedings). In four states and territories (Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory), a majority of participants were unaware that their own jurisdiction had apology laws that applied to OD. The most frequent recommendations for legal reform to improve OD were strengthening existing protections (23), improving education and awareness of applicable laws (11), fundamental reform of the medical negligence system (8), and better alignment of the activities of certain legal actors (eg, coroners) with OD practice (6).
Conclusions: Concerns about both the medicolegal implications of OD and the skills needed to conduct it effectively are prevalent among health professionals at the leading edge of the OD movement in Australia. The ability of current laws to protect against use of this information in legal proceedings is perceived as inadequate.