Male doctors more likely to face legal action

  • The BMJ
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Male doctors have nearly two and a half times higher odds of having legal action taken against them than female doctors, a meta-analysis published in the open access journal BMC Medicine has found.1

Researchers from University College London identified 32 studies from around the world that had looked at medicolegal action against doctors by sex. This included disciplinary action taken against doctors by medical regulatory boards, malpractice claims and cases, complaints received by non-regulatory bodies that investigate healthcare complaints, and criminal cases.

Of these studies, which covered 3 794 486 doctors and 20 666 cases, 19 reported data that allowed the calculation of a measure of effect. All 19 found that men were more likely than women to experience a medicolegal action, although in three of the studies the effect was not significant. No studies found that women were more likely than men to experience a medicolegal action. A random effects model found a pooled odds ratio of 2.45 (95% confidence interval 2.05 to 2.93) of men being subject to a medicolegal action.

The authors said their results showed that the effect of male sex on experiencing medicolegal actions had remained fairly constant over the past 15 years despite an increasing trend of female doctors. “We therefore feel one can no longer argue that male doctors are more likely to face medico-legal action because there are more male doctors practising,” they said in a statement. “If this were the case, we would expect the effect size to diminish over time, to reflect the increasing number of female doctors.” However, they did not examine the number of hours worked or the number of patient encounters by the doctors.

Emily Unwin, lead researcher, said, “More research is needed to understand the reasons why male doctors are more likely to experience a medico-legal action. The causes are likely to be complex and multifactorial.

“The medical profession, along with medical regulators, and medical educationalists now need to work together to identify and understand the underlying causal factors resulting in a sex difference in the experience of medico-legal action, with the aim of better supporting doctors in achieving the standards expected of them and improving patient care.”

By Ingrid Torjesen, London