I read with interest a recent article, referring to research being published in the well respected, Medical Journal of Australia.

The research related to a survey of 3,000 doctors, concerning their attitudes towards medico-legal issues.

The thrust of the article is along the lines of "isn’t it terrible such doctors practice in fear of a medico-legal claim.

More interesting + significant in my view was a peripheral comment which confirmed that 66%+ of the surveyed doctors said fear of litigation improved their communication of risk to patients. They also said it led to better systems for tracking results and auditing clinical practice.

This is a clear endorsement of the role of tort law (the law of negligence as applied to health professionals) in improving standards of medical practice. As our ‘new’ website homepage (to be published in the next week or 2) says, clients we see are often concerned at the effect their bringing a claim will have on the practices of the doctor, hospital or other health professional concerned. This is a primary motive for many clients wishing to pursue claim. To make sure lessons are learnt and the same mistakes not repeated the next time. This study validates our view that claims do indeed lead to alter (improve) health practices.

I agree that ideally a threat of litigation should not be a first line mode of seeking to improve doctors’ communication skills or other practices. In my view a ‘carrot’ is always better than a ‘stick.’

Further, there is clearly a distorted sense of the significance of a claim being made against a doctor, which has lead to a disproportionate fear of such claims and resulting phobia, which is not desirable. With respect, the answer to this is counselling/education of doctors concerning medico-legal processes (to the extent their fear is unfounded and over emphasised by them as indicative of an attack on ‘their life’s work’).