Patient Care

Complaints Against Doctors Linked to Depression, Defensive Medicine


Clinical question: What is the impact of complaints on doctors’ psychological welfare and health?

Background: Studies have shown that malpractice litigation is associated with physician depression and suicide. Though complaints and investigations are part of appropriate physician oversight, unintentional consequences, such as defensive medicine and physician burnout, often occur.

Study design: Cross-sectional, anonymous survey study.

Setting: Surveys sent to members of the British Medical Association.

Synopsis: Only 8.3% of 95,636 invited physicians completed the survey. This study demonstrated that 16.9% of doctors with recent or ongoing complaints reported clinically significant symptoms of moderate to severe depression, compared to 9.5% of doctors with no complaints; 15% of doctors in the recent complaints group reported clinically significant levels of anxiety, compared to 7.3% of doctors with no complaints. Overall, 84.7% of doctors with a recent complaint and 79.9% with a past complaint reported changing the way they practiced medicine as a result of the complaint.

Since this study is a cross-sectional survey, it does not prove causation; it is possible that doctors with depression and anxiety are more likely to have complaints filed against them.

Bottom line: Doctors involved with complaints have a high prevalence of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Citation: Bourne T, Wynants L, Peters M, et al. The impact of complaints procedures on the welfare, health and clinical practise of 7926 doctors in the UK: a cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open. 2015;5(1):e006687.

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