Male doctors more than twice as likely as female doctors to face legal action: study

The heightened number of cases amongst men has been consistent for the past 15 years

In the first global study of its kind, researchers from University College London found that male doctors are about two and a half times more likely to face medico-legal action than their female counterparts.

The meta-analysis, published in the journal BMC Medicine, examined the results of 32 studies representing a population of 4,054,551 doctors and 40,246 medico-legal cases.

Twenty-seven of the studies found that male doctors were consistently involved in cases more often than their female colleagues.

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The studies covered six categories of offences: disciplinary action taken against a doctors by a medical regulatory board, complaints received by a non-regulatory body, malpractice claims and criminal cases.

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

In the past, some believed that this increased likelihood to offend was owing to the fact that there were simply more male doctors practicing. But with more women entering the profession, it would seem that the difference in likelihood to offend would decrease as the physician population changed.  That hasn’t been the case.

The analysis shows that heightened number of cases amongst men has been consistent for the past 15 years.

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Another theory suggests that, based on figures from the study, because male doctors work more hours and have more patient interactions, they are more likely to run into trouble. However the meta-analysis did not confirm any link between these.

Urwin said that research to uncover the causes of offences is important, not only because it can help to avoid the stresses placed on individual doctors but also because it may help alleviate the strain on different regulatory bodies, which eat up system resources investigating complaints.

“The medical profession, along with medical regulators, and medical educationalists, now need to work together,” she said.

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