Describes the frequency and characteristics of mandatory reports about the health, competence and conduct of registered health practitioners in Australia.
Health practitioners are often well placed to identify colleagues who pose risks to patients, but they have traditionally been reluctant to do so. Since 2010, laws in all Australian states and territories require health practitioners to report all “notifiable conduct” that comes to their attention to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
Legal regimes in other countries, including New Zealand, the United States and Canada,mandate reports about impaired peers in certain circumstances. However, Australia's mandatory reporting law is unusually far-reaching. It applies to peers and treating practitioners, as well as employers and education providers, across 14 health professions. Notifiable conduct is defined broadly to cover practising while intoxicated, sexual misconduct, or placing the public at risk through impairment or a departure from accepted standards.
Mandatory reporting has sparked controversy and debate among clinicians, professional bodies and patient safety advocates. Supporters believe that it facilitates the identification of dangerous practitioners, communicates a clear message that patient safety comes first, encourages employers and clinicians to address poor performance, and improves surveillance of threats to patient safety. Critics charge that mandatory reporting fosters a culture of fear, deters help-seeking, and fuels professional rivalries and vexatious reporting.Concerns have also been raised about the subjectivity of reporting criteria. Australian Medical Association opposed the introduction of the mandatory reporting regime for medical practitioners, citing several of these objections.
Little evidence is available to evaluate the veracity of these different views. We sought to provide baseline information on how the regime is working by analysing an early sample of mandatory notifications. Specifically, we aimed to determine how frequently notifications are made, by and against which types of practitioners, and about what types of behaviour.