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Mandatory reporting: the “low hanging fruit” in doctors’ health

Mandatory reporting: the “low hanging fruit” in doctors’ health - Featured Image

Mandatory reporting came under fire at a panel discussion on doctors’ health at the AMA National Conference held in Melbourne late last month.

Currently all states, with the exception of Western Australia, have regulations which require health practitioners to report colleagues who they feel may be a threat to their patients to AHPRA or the Medical Board of Australia.

Although mandatory reporting requirements are well-intentioned efforts to protect patients, many professionals worry they are a major barrier to doctors seeking help for their mental health issues.

Speaking on the panel, Dr Bav Manoharan, a Queensland-based radiology registrar who has been involved in resilience building projects, said there was confusion around mandatory reporting legislation and what the threshold was for reporting colleagues to AHPRA.

“That is a real concern,” he said. “There’s a stigma around a doctor approaching a health service and asking for help in environments where there is mandatory reporting.”

He said that changes to manadatory reporting requirements and a clearer understanding of them were the “low-hanging fruit” in the debate around doctors’ health.

Dr Janette Randall, a Queensland-based GP who is chair of Doctors Health Services Pty Ltd, noted that the threshold for reporting was actually quite high but there was a lot of subjectivity and doctors were getting inappropriately reported.

“We have a strong sense of fear and reluctance to present for care and this is one of the barriers. I do think the time has come to remove the onus on treating practitioners to report. That’s not to say we don’t all retain an ethical and professional responsibility in that space, but we’ve got to be able to create safe environments for people to seek care.”

Marie Jepson, who has been involved in research into depression in the legal community, said mandatory reporting tended to drive mental health issues underground.

“We found there were lawyers who would deliberately not go to the doctor, even though they were quite ill, so they didn’t have to lie on their application for a practising certificate. It meant that they complied with the regulation, but it was a timebomb waiting to go off.”

The issue of revamping mandatory reporting requirements does seem to be gaining traction, particularly in New South Wales, where Health Minister Brad Hazzard has announced he will review the legislation.

Mr Hazzard met with health stakeholders at a forum this week in Sydney to discuss measures to improve the mental health of doctors, after several high profile cases of doctor suicides in the state.

“It’s really critical for people with mental health issues to be able to talk to someone with absolute confidence and know that person is there to help and not to judge them – that’s the critical problem with mandatory reporting,” Mr Hazzard told the forum.

“Having listened to the young doctors it may be that the mandatory reporting requirements are technically not the problem, but practically they are, because that perception among young doctors is by seeking mental health help they may be damaging their career. It looks to me that mandatory reporting provisions do need changing.”

For more information about health issues for doctors, access a range of online resources from Doctors’ Health Services Pty Ltd.