More Swedish docs fear malpractice complaints

Malpractice fears have Swedish doctors spending an increasing amount of their time performing diagnoses which are not medically necessary, according to a new study.

A report from the Swedish Junior Doctors’ Association (SYLF) finds that doctors in Sweden are so worried about being reported to the Medical Responsibility Board (Hälso- och sjukvårdens ansvarsnämnd – HSAN) that they now devote a full 16 percent of their time to pointless examinations.

“I don’t know if it comes from American TV-series, this idea that you file a complaint, you sue, and then everything is made right. In that case, it doesn’t make any difference what intentions a doctor had; all that matters is what they have done,” said attending physician Fia Klötz to Sveriges Radio.

In contrast to the United States’ professional liability system, where malpractice complaints are often settled in the courts, Sweden has a no-fault compensation system which separates the finding of fault from the process by which compensation is determined.

In Sweden, aggrieved patients can file a complaint with the Board, which then determines the merits of the complaints and hears testimony from the patient as well as doctor in question.

Doctors found at fault are issued warnings or reprimanded, but the Board’s findings have no bearing on the decision to compensate a patient for injury caused by a medical mistake.

Rather, compensation claims are handled separately by one of several patient insurance organizations.

Thus, while doctors in the United States are often motivated to avoid medical malpractice complaints for the fear of getting sued, in Sweden the overriding concern is the loss of professional reputation.

The report also shows that an increasing number of younger doctors are afraid of being reported.

Over half of respondent reported such fears, which is significantly more than did so eight years ago when a similar study was carried out.

The fear of being ridiculed in front of colleagues and the general public has also caused many doctors to put off acknowledging their own or others’ mistakes.

SYLF is a professional association with 7,400 within the Swedish Medical Association (Sveriges läkarförbund).