Doctors’ health has been in the news. It is a critical issue for our profession, one in which the Board has an important role. We want doctors to feel ok about seeking help for their health when they need it. The Board allocates $2 million each year to Doctors’ Health Services Pty Ltd (DrHS) across Australia. But we have to do much more to address the fear, reluctance and other barriers that stop some doctors seeking the care they need. We want to work with other health agencies and the medical profession to meet this shared challenge.
The mandatory reporting provisions in the National Law have been revised recently and the threshold for reporting a doctor’s impairment has lifted. But still, myths and misconceptions prevail, contributing to doctors’ hesitation to get help. I want to make it very clear that the Board is only interested in hearing about practitioners if they have an impairment likely to affect their practice and pose a substantial risk to the public. A doctor who is managing a health condition by seeking help, or who takes some time off to get well, is very unlikely to meet the threshold and should not be reported. On the other hand, a surgeon with untreated hand tremor who continues to practise unsafely should be reported to protect his or her patients. Or a doctor with an untreated psychotic condition, or Alzheimer’s disease, who cannot think clearly and continues to practise, would also meet the threshold. These situations are rare.
Health Ministers have asked AHPRA and the Board to contribute to a major educational campaign, which will start later in the year, to reduce doctors’ fear of getting help when they need it by busting some of the myths. We will be working with our stakeholders to develop and implement the campaign.
In the meantime, if you want to know if you need to make a mandatory report, ask yourself this question: ‘Does this situation represent a substantial risk of harm to the public?’. If the answer is no, mandatory reporting probably does not apply. It’s a good idea to speak with your insurer.
All doctors should feel comfortable to get help when they need it because doctors’ health matters for public safety.
Dr Anne Tonkin
Chair, Medical Board of Australia
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Changes to mandatory reporting requirements aimed at supporting practitioners to seek help for a health issue, including mental health, have been passed. The Queensland Parliament passed the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Qld) (the Act), which also includes more sanctions (including custodial sentences) for some statutory offences, including for fake practitioners.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding and concern about mandatory reporting. We will seek to work closely with stakeholders to plan and implement an awareness campaign designed to inform practitioners about mandatory reporting and encouraging practitioners to seek help for their health issues when they need it.
The passing of the Act in Queensland marks the second set of legislative amendments to the National Law since the start of the National Scheme in 2010.
When they take effect, the amendments will apply in all states and territories except Western Australia, where mandatory reporting requirements will not change.
You can read more about the amendments on the AHPRA website or the Act on the Queensland Legislation website.
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We are keen to hear your views, so we have extended our consultation on options to more clearly regulate medical practitioners who provide complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments. The consultation will be open until 12 May, to give everyone a chance to have their say.
We are consulting on options to best protect patients and minimise the risk of harm to them, without stifling innovation, making a judgement about specific clinical practices or limiting patients’ right to choose their healthcare.
So far, we have heard from many patients who are keen to make sure the guidelines don’t limit their right to choose their doctor or their treatment options. This is definitely not the intention of the guidelines. When we have all the feedback from the consultation, we will be reviewing our language carefully to make sure our meaning and intentions are clear.
The draft guidelines provide a framework for doctors practising in this area but do not rule in or out specific complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments. They are designed to be used alongside Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia.
The consultation paper, including a discussion paper and draft guidelines, is published on the Board’s website or read more in this news item. We are keen to hear from practitioners, stakeholders and the community.
Please email written submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, marked: ‘Consultation on complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments’.
The consultation closes on 12 May 2019.
The Board generally publishes submissions to consultations on its website to encourage discussion and inform the community and stakeholders, unless confidentiality is requested. For more detail, please refer to the section on submissions in the consultation paper.
AHPRA has launched a series of new videos to support the public and registered health practitioners as they go through the notification process.
The ‘Let’s talk about it video' series explains what happens when concerns are raised with the regulator, provides easy-to-follow information about the notifications process and addresses common questions. We want consumers and health practitioners to know what to expect when they interact with AHPRA and National Boards.
There are three videos:
The videos complement written resources about notifications available on the AHPRA website.
You can also view the videos on YouTube and Vimeo, and join the conversation by following AHPRA on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
AHPRA has published a new resource - the titles tool - to help doctors navigate the requirements of the National Law, in relation to the use of titles. The National Law restricts the use of protected titles, for example, ‘medical practitioner’ and ‘specialist paediatrician’ are protected titles. While the use of some titles may not breach National Law title protections, they may be considered false, misleading or deceptive and breach other provisions of the law related to professional conduct, advertising or statutory offences.
This titles tool is available in the Advertising resources section under Check and correct your advertising on the AHPRA website.
Hints about the use of titles in advertising contained in the resource include:
Using a protected title with a descriptor in a potentially misleading way
While use of a descriptor with a protected title might provide useful information to the public, advertisers must take care that the title does not over-represent the practitioner’s skills, experience or qualifications, or imply specialist registration or endorsement.
Using ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, ‘specialised’
Advertising that uses the words, or variations of the words or phrases ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, or ‘specialised’ implies the practitioner holds specialty registration and is likely to mislead the public if the practitioner does not hold specialist registration. These words or phrases should be used with caution. Words such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are less likely to be misleading.
Overstating specialist area of practice
When a practitioner holds specialist registration in a recognised specialty, they should ensure that their use of ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, or ‘specialised’ in their advertising is restricted to the specialty they are registered in and does not misrepresent their specialist registration.
The titles tool builds on other resources published on the AHPRA website to help practitioners check and correct their advertising.
We launched the Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy for the National Scheme in April 2017. Under the strategy, AHPRA and National Boards have developed several resources to help practitioners and advertisers, including testimonial and self-assessment tools, a summary of advertising obligations, frequently asked questions, tips on words to be wary about, and examples of compliant and non-compliant advertising.
The Board has approved the following:
Specialist college program of study
Medical school program of study
Program of study for endorsement of registration
Intern training accreditation authority
There are important lessons for registered medical practitioners from tribunal decisions. The Medical Board of Australia refers the most serious concerns about medical practitioners to tribunals in each state and territory. These cases were published recently:
AHPRA, on behalf of the 15 National Boards, publishes a record of panel, court and tribunal decisions about registered health practitioners.
When investigating a notification, the Board may refer a medical practitioner to a health panel hearing, or a performance and professional standards panel hearing. Under the National Law1, panel hearings are not open to the public. AHPRA publishes a record of panel hearing decisions made since July 2010. Practitioners’ names are not published, consistent with the National Law.
Summaries of tribunal and court cases are published on the Court and tribunal decisions page of the AHPRA website. The Board and AHPRA sometimes choose to not publish summaries, for example about cases involving practitioners with impairment.
1 The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory.
In New South Wales and Queensland, different arrangements are in place. More information is available on AHPRA’s website on the Make a complaint page.
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Please note: Practitioners are responsible for keeping up to date with the Board’s expectations about their professional obligations. The Board publishes standards, codes and guidelines as well as alerts in its newsletter. If you unsubscribe from this newsletter you are still required to keep up to date with information published on the Board’s website.
Comment on the Board newsletter is welcome and should be sent to email@example.com.
For registration enquiries or contact detail changes, call the AHPRA customer service team on 1300 419 495 (from within Australia).