Phone consults a legal minefield
UNSOLICITED patient phone consultations could prove a legal minefield for GPs, according to a medical academic, with GPs exposing themselves to a higher risk of litigation.
Writing in the latest Journal of Law and Medicine, Dr Saxon Smith, a career medical officer and director of AMA (NSW), said that, while phone consultations were useful for patients with limited access, the lack of a face-to-face consultation meant the risks of misdiagnosis and miscommunication were higher.
“[GPs must] be circumspect as they’re getting information from people who have no medical training and are not able to perform an exam or read body language,” he said.
At the same time however, he noted, GPs who chose not to advise their patients could also find themselves in hot water if a patient became seriously ill and they were found to have neglected a duty of care.
Training in this field, said Dr Smith, was therefore crucial and GPs should be actively seeking it from their MDO.
NSW GP and medico-legal consultant Dr Craig Lilienthal said doctors should give “guarded” telephone advice and “tell the patient that there are no guarantees” as there was a risk that patients could be “reassured when they shouldn’t be”.
Meanwhile, Avant medico-legal adviser Andrew Took suggested GPs should document phone consultations as accurately as traditional consultations.
J Law Med 2008; 16:57.