Male doctors more likely to face medico-legal action

Male doctors are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to face legal action than their female counterparts, according to research published in the BMC Medicine open access journal.

The study by researchers at University College London was based on a systematic review and meta-analysis of 32 studies, representing a population of 4,054,551 and 40,246 cases of medico-legal action.

The findings were published in an article titled Sex differences in medico-legal action against doctors: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Actions categorised as “medico-legal” include disciplinary action taken by a medical regulatory board, malpractice claims/cases, and complaints received by non-regulatory bodies that investigate healthcare complaints.

The reasons for the gender disparity have not been fully explored.

However, researchers disputed claims that male doctors were more likely to experience legal action simply due to the larger number of male doctors.

Their analysis showed that the disparity between the sexes has remained consistent for the last 15 years, despite growth in the number of female doctors over that period.

Lead researcher Dr Emily Unwin last year worked on a similar study which found that male doctors were more likely to receive regulatory sanctions than their female counterparts.

The findings were published in BMJ Open in an article titled Disciplined doctors: Does the sex of a doctor matter? A cross-sectional study examining the association between a doctor’s sex and receiving sanctions against their medical registration.

Commenting on the findings of her new study, Dr Unwin said: “Investigating complaints about doctors’ fitness to practice not only places an enormous level of stress on the doctor being investigated, but also places a resource strain on regulators, and may lead to patient concerns about the quality of care they receive.

“More research is needed to understand the reasons for why male doctors are more likely to experience a medico-legal action.

“The causes are likely to be complex and multi-factorial. 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.”