This site is intended for health professionals only

Communication tops list of medico-legal risks faced by practices

Communication problems have for the first time outstripped confidentiality concerns as the number one medico-legal risk faced by practices, according to a new analysis by medical defence experts.

A Medical Protection Society analysis of Clinical Risk Self Assessments submitted by 150 GP practices in 2011 found that communication problems presented the highest risk to practices, after 99.4% of practices raised it as an issue. The MPS analysis found confidentiality was deemed the second highest risk factor, with 98.7% of practices identifying it as an issue.

Other significant risk factors included health and safety (identified by 97.4% of practices), prescribing (87.8%) and record keeping (87.2%).

Dr Richard Stacey, medico-legal adviser at the MPS and a former GP, said: ‘Traditionally, confidentiality has been the highest risk in general practice, but last year communication overtook confidentiality by a small margin. In recent years practices have embraced electronic communication, offering greater convenience and flexibility for both patients and doctors – but it does bring with it new problems.

‘The main issues are around consent and confidentiality; just because a patient has provided their email address or mobile number doesn’t mean they have provided consent for their personal information to be communicated in this way. It is also important that emails and texts form part of the patient’s records and systems are monitored for responses from patients, particularly if it is an urgent matter. The important message here is to embrace the benefits but be aware of the pitfalls of electronic communication.’