Objective To examine how disciplinary tribunals assess different forms of misconduct in deciding whether to remove doctors from practice for professional misconduct.
Design and setting Multivariable regression analysis of 485 cases in which tribunals found doctors guilty of professional misconduct. The cases came from four Australian states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia) and New Zealand and were decided over a 10-year period (1 January 2000 – 30 September 2009).
Main outcome measures Type of misconduct, the tribunal's explanation for why the misconduct occurred, and the disciplinary measure imposed.
Results 43% of the cases resulted in removal of the offending doctor from practice, 37% in restrictions on practice and 19% in non-restrictive sanctions. The odds of removal were very high in cases involving sexual relationships with patients (OR 22.59; 95% CI 10.18 to 50.14) and moderately high in cases involving inappropriate sexual conduct (not in the context of a relationship), commission of criminal offences, and forms of inappropriate conduct unrelated to patients. Cases in which the misconduct was judged to be due to willful wrongdoing (OR 17.14; 95% CI 8.62 to 34.09), incompetence (OR 6.02; 95% CI 2.87 to 12.63) and issues in the doctor's personal life (OR 4.17; 95% CI 2.07 to 8.41) also had higher odds removal from practice.
Conclusion Tribunals in Australia and New Zealand tend to remove doctors from practice for behaviours indicative of character flaws and lack of insight, rather than behaviours exhibiting errors in care delivery, poor clinical judgement or lack of knowledge. The generalisability of these findings to regulatory regimes for health practitioners in other countries should be tested.
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Funding This research was funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Federation Fellowship (FF0668632) to Dr Studdert. The funder had no role in the design of the study, the analysis or interpretation of results, or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
Competing interests None to declare.
Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Human Research Ethics Committee at the University of Melbourne.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement The text of tribunal decisions that formed the basis of the study dataset are publicly available.
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