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Half of legal claims against GPs ‘unsuccessful’

Most malpractice legal claims against GPs are due to misdiagnosis or prescribing errors, while only half end up resulting in a payout for the patient, international research has revealed.

The report, published in BMJ Open today, found missed diagnoses accounted for between a quarter (26%) and almost two thirds (63%) of the total number of claims in primary care.

The proportion of prescribing errors meanwhile ranged from 5.6% to 20% across all the studies.

For adults, cancer, heart attacks and appendicitis were the most commonly missed diagnoses. For children, the most frequent claims related to meningitis and cancers.

The most frequent prescribing errors involved antibiotics, anticoagulants, antidepressants, antipsychotics and steroid preparations.

The Irish researchers trawled through published research in English about the number and causes of malpractice claims in primary care in April 2012 and again in January 2013.

Out of a total of 7152 studies, 34 were eligible for inclusion in the analysis. Fifteen studies were based in the US, nine in the UK, seven in Australia, two in France, and one in Canada.published studies into malpractice claims in the UK, US, Australia, France and Canada.

They found that in the UK only around half of claims were successful for the patient, resulting in a pay-out. In the US this number was even lower, at only one third.

The authors concluded that GP trainers and risk managers should prioritise the areas the report identified as the most prevalent risk areas when setting up risk managment systems and educating doctors.

The report said: ‘The increasing recognition of primary care as a setting for adverse events places the development of fit-for-purpose educational strategies and risk management systems as a priority for those interested in promoting patient safety. This review offers insights into the epidemiology of malpractice claims in this setting and highlights areas that could be prioritised both for future research and in the development of risk management

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, medico-legal adviser at the Medical Protection Society, said the study highlighted that communication was an important factor in preventing legal action.

She said: ‘[Only] 1-3% of patients that suffered negligence go on to sue their doctors, whilst two-thirds of people that have suffered an adverse outcome make a claim despite there being no negligence. The rise in clinical negligence claims is multi-factorial with communication being a key factor.’