Even off duty, legal issues need to be considered
THERE are a number of situations, either intentional or unintentional, where a doctor may become involved in the treatment of injuries at sporting events.
There may be no expectations that you are there at an event to provide services, but it could be a case of serendipity…you were there as a spectator and something happens that requires medical assistance.
Many practitioners with children will easily identify with a situation where they go along to watch their child play sport and one of the participants is injured and all eyes turn toward the doctor. Often the doctor is the only trained person present.
This unintentional involvement is of course unpreventable and not dissimilar to other Good Samaritan incidents.
The same principles and duty of care apply when treating someone opportunistically on the sporting field as when treating someone unexpectedly in a public emergency situation. Medical indemnity organisations have traditionally provided cover for their members under these circumstances, in addition to protection provided by existing Good Samaritan legislation that exists in that state or territory.
It is prudent to make and keep a concise record of the event and your management, in much the same way as is recommended for any professional encounter. It is also worth noting the same standards of referral letters and transmission of medical information to the patient’s usual GP should apply.
In some situations the doctor may be asked more formally by a sports team to be the designated team doctor. The level of involvement can vary considerably from simply providing treatment at
the event, through to attending training sessions and providing advice away from the sporting arena, or in some cases travelling with the team.
The practitioner’s obligations under these situations are clear and require application of the same principles of practice as in their usual professional life. It is strongly recommended the doctor notify their medical indemnity organisation in writing of the arrangement they intend to enter into to make sure that their policy is appropriate and applies. This notification should occur even if there is no remuneration involved for the doctor’s role.
Another common occurrence is where the doctor is asked informally for medical advice by an acquaintance. This “you’re a doctor so you will be able to tell me what to do” scenario is not of course limited to sporting events. It can cause a rather difficult situation where one has to run that thin line between appearing unhelpful versus putting yourself at risk professionally.
To give professional opinions on such things as skin lesions or physical symptoms at a dinner party is fraught with risk. The best way to handle the situation is to have a standard answer ready, along the lines of “it’s difficult to give an opinion without taking a full history/doing a full physical examination, so why don’t you come and see me at my rooms” or “why don’t you see your GP for a concise diagnosis”.
One lawyer, when giving advice to MIPS members on these matters opined, in all seriousness, that doctors attending sporting events should always carry a notebook and pen for the recording of any medical advice given on the day. While this might sound somewhat extreme, there is a very definite experiential basis to that advice.
Dr Rob Walters
Medical Indemnity Protection Society
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