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No such thing as a stupid question


Nerissa Ferrie


28/06/2021 3:09:55 PM

SPONSORED: There are some common areas in which healthcare professionals can be hesitant to ask questions.

Confused doctor looking in clipboard folder.
Most requests for medical certificates are entirely appropriate, but some require careful consideration.

When doctors call their MDO for advice, they often preface their question with, ‘This may be a stupid question, but…’. 
 
But don’t worry; we understand the fact issues that may seem commonplace for an experienced medico-legal adviser may not be an everyday situation for a busy GP. So let’s explore some of the common queries we see through Medico-legal Advisory Services.
 
Subpoenas
No one wants to be on the receiving end of a subpoena. Whether it is a subpoena to give evidence or for medical records, it is likely to take up some of your valuable time.
 
It is important to remember, however, that the courts will only issue a subpoena if it is absolutely necessary. This is an acknowledgement of the high esteem in which doctors are held by the courts and by the public.
 
Privacy
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OAIC)s Guide to health privacy is an excellent starting point for most queries; however, not all privacy queries are straightforward.
 
Requests relating to deceased patient records, notifiable data breaches, collateral information and separated families can be time-consuming and tricky to resolve. If in doubt, contact your MDO for advice.
 
Fitness to drive
Assessing Fitness to Drive, a national guide produced by Austroads, is the best tool a doctor has in assessing medical standards for safe driving.
 
Notification is mandatory is some jurisdictions (SA and the NT), but doctors also have an ethical obligation to notify the driving authority if a patient continues to drive when it is unsafe for them to do so. Provided the report is made in good faith, doctors are protected from civil and criminal liability when alerting the driving authority to a potential risk.
 
Medical certificates
Most requests for medical certificates are entirely appropriate and do not require a great deal of consideration. But what if the request leads to an unintended alteration to a custody arrangement, or the patient is asking you to back-date a certificate?
 
You should act in the spirit of 10.9 of the Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia and contact your MDO when in doubt.
 
Ending the doctor–patient relationship
Some doctors find this process more difficult than others, and thresholds can vary significantly between individuals. A breakdown in the doctor–patient relationship should not be seen as a failure, but rather an opportunity for the patient to be matched with the best doctor for their needs.
 
Managing complaints
Patient dissatisfaction can be brought to your attention in a number of ways, including negative reviews, complaints to the practice or hospital, and more formally through a complaints body such as the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), the Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO) or the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC).
 
A well-worded response early in the process is the best way to avoid an unnecessary escalation. If you become aware that a patient is unhappy with the care they have received, contact your MDO for guidance and advice.
 
Medicare compliance
Currently one of the hot topics for all doctors, Medicare billing and compliance can be complex and difficult to navigate. If you would like to know more about the audit process, and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls, watch our webinar Protecting your Provider Number.
 
Online communication and cyber safety
Most businesses now have an online presence, and this includes the practice of medicine.
 
Cyber security is often practice-based and outside of your control, but you are still responsible for your own online communication. Doctors have been sanctioned by AHPRA for comments they have made online, so always think before you post.
 
Vaccination errors and iron staining
Vaccination is a part of modern life – and even more so in the face of COVID-19 – so check out our tips for minimising vaccination errors.
 
The risk of an adverse outcome arising from iron staining can be minimised. Follow our practice tips to avoid becoming the subject of a complaint or claim.
 
This article is provided by MDA National. They recommend that you contact your indemnity provider if you need specific advice in relation to your insurance policy or medico-legal matters.
 
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