Doctor’s mood linked to risk of medical negligence claim

A study of Australian doctors has found an increased risk of medical negligence claims among those who are unhappy or overworked

concerned face
Getty/Marilyn Nieves

New research published by University of Melbourne scientists in the British Medical Journal has found a link between a doctor’s mood and their risk of facing a professional conduct investigation.

Doctors who were unhappy or overworked were more likely to be sued for medical negligence, while those who worked in rural areas also faced an elevated risk of professional investigation.

The researchers analysed the responses of more than 12,000 doctors to the Medicine in Australia Balancing Employment and Life survey between 2013 and 2018.

The questionnaire included questions about age, personality, health, life satisfaction and working conditions.

Just over one in 20 doctors reported being the subject of a medical negligence claim over the study period.

The analysis revealed that working overtime, working within a regional centre and a recent personal injury or illness were linked to higher rates of medical negligence claims.

Doctors who scored poorly on self-rated life satisfaction or who had increasing job demands were also more likely to face legal action.

By contrast, doctors who had an agreeable personality were slightly less likely to face a medical negligence claim.

Dr Owen Bradfield highlighted that the identification of risk factors linked to professional conduct claims could provide valuable insight to employers, regulators and health practitioners who care for unwell doctors.

"We need to reduce doctor fatigue by addressing long working hours. We also need to create supportive work environments and target interventions that improve doctors' overall wellbeing, such as through healthy lifestyle and positive psychology programme. This could reduce the risk of doctors being sued, and improve patient safety,” he said.