Doctor shopping is becoming increasingly common among older Australians who are trying to keep their driver’s licences for longer, a Queensland lawyer has revealed.
While the freedom if not having to rely on someone else for transport is beneficial, Bennett & Philp Lawyers Director Mark O’Connor told Starts at 60 the legal issues faced by all involved if an elderly person is caught up in a road crash because of their condition are not worth the risk, not to mention the injuries obtained.
“There may be some doctors who out of a sense of loyalty or compassion to their patients certify them as fit to drive but if the patients then has a crash where their health issue played a part, then insurers are likely to drag in the doctors,” he explained.
In Queensland and New South Wales alone, drivers aged 75 and over are required to undergo a yearly medical check-up and be certified fit to drive. However, although this rule is meant to help more than harm, the increasing trend towards doctor shopping is a cause for concern.
Earlier this year Sydney-based general practitioner Dr Annette Munday told The Daily Telegraph patients in NSW were desperately trying to hold onto their licenses by finding sympathetic doctors to approve their fitness to drive.
“That person will then try it on with another GP – you know, do the whole doctor shopping thing.”
Now, speaking out about the issues surrounding doctor shopping, O’Connor said doctors should be fully aware of the personal consequences of certifying someone as safe to drive when the doctor knows otherwise.
In such situations, the Brisbane personal injury law specialist explained doctors could be sued by compulsory third party (CTP) insurers for indemnity against claims.
“The CTP insurer would be insuring the impaired driver who went doctor shopping. The insurer could require its insured driver to cooperate and sign the necessary documents to get access to relevant medical files,” he said.
“The insurer could also, via their insured driver, get a copy of the driver’s Medicare claims history to see if the driver saw several doctors before the one in question to get the necessary medical certificate.”
These types of cases are becoming far more common with one doctor in Ipswich brought before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal by the Medical Board of Australia in 2015. According to The Courier Mail he was fined and penalised for issuing driver license medical fitness certificates to a patient with a history of post traumatic epilepsy.
The doctor certified the patient as fit to drive, but about three weeks later the patient struck and killed a pedestrian. The tribunal accepted the incident happened after the driver had a seizure.
O’Connor said the issue would become more contentious with the state’s ageing population and with elderly drivers not wanting to surrender their licence and lose their sense of independence.
“It’s natural they would want to keep driving and pressure their doctor to give them a medical certificate to drive, but doctors need to think ahead too about the wider issues of road safety,” he explained.
“They may not realise that their actions in certifying people fit to drive who have serious medical issues could ensnare the doctor in possible legal actions if there’s a crash with injury or death.”
According to the lawyer, the same warnings apply in regard to any medical condition that may impair driver ability and safety.