By Christian Duffin
Dealing with aggressive patients and maintaining patient confidentiality are some of the biggest potential legal risks for practices, say medical defence experts.
A survey conducted in 2010 by the Medical Protection Society looked at the top five risks to GPs from clinical risk self assessments.
Among 121 practices in the UK and Ireland, 98.3% highlighted patient confidentiality as a risk while 97.5% said ‘communication’, both within the practice team and between the healthcare team and patients. Health and safety risks – often because of aggressive patients – ‘prescribing’, and ‘record keeping’ were the others in the top five.
Prescribing risk relates in part to healthcare assistants monitoring and dosing warfarin. All of the top five risks recorded figures of above 90%.
MPS policy and communications director Dr Stephanie Bown explained: ‘As practices have moved away from paper files and are keeping patients’ records electronically, some are finding it more difficult to keep staff and their families’ records confidential.
‘In such instances, we advised practices to ensure that all staff have signed confidentiality agreements, and where possible, to avoid having staff and their families as patients. If that wasn’t possible, we suggested they explain the measures in place to maintain their confidentiality, such as password protected access, but that there is still a risk of another member of staff seeing their details.’
Dr Bown said of communications risks: ‘Communication is fundamental to patient care – both within the practice team, and between the healthcare team and the patient, yet many practices did not have robust systems in place for effectively communicating with their patients and involving them in the service provided.
Dr Bown recommended that practices introduce a ‘security policy’ so that staff know what to do when a patient becomes violent or aggressive.