Most Medical Malpractice Claims against GPs are for Wrong Diagnosis says RCSI

According to a report commissioned by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), most medical malpractice claims against GPs are for wrong diagnosis.

The report – researched for the RCSI and recently published in the British Medical Journal – was compiled by the Centre for Primary Care Research in Dublin after more than seven thousand medical malpractice claims against GPs had been analysed. Its objective was to identify which areas of primary care required specific attention when developing risk management systems for primary healthcare practitioners and planning future educational strategies.

“The Epidemiology of Malpractice Claims in Primary Care: A Systematic Review” found that the most common reason for medical malpractice claims against GPs were for the missed or delayed diagnosis of cancer – specifically breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the female genital tract – medication errors (prescribing and administering) and, in children, the failure to correctly diagnose appendicitis and meningitis.

Lead researcher Dr Emma Wallace – who is herself a GP – acknowledged that medical malpractice claims against GPs were not the ideal substitute for adverse events, but commented that when medical malpractice claims are made against GPs, the doctors against whom the claims are made often suffer increased stress levels – reducing their effectiveness, and placing more patients at risk of a misdiagnosis or medication error.

Dr Wallace also highlighted the fact that GPs are more frequently practicing defensively due to the risk of litigation, and referring patients to consultants rather than make a diagnosis themselves. This unwillingness to use their experience to make a diagnosis can lead to patients´ conditions deteriorating further (due to the delay in seeing a consultant) and ultimately create more pressure on an under-resourced health service.

She hopes that the “systematic review is timely considering the increased interest in focusing on primary care as a way of improving patient care and safety” and that the report will provide an insight into the types of adverse events in clinical practice and the reasons for them happening, which would reduce the number of medical malpractice claims against GPs in Ireland and have the effect of increasing the standard of primary care provided.