27 Oct 2023
A tribunal has reprimanded a general practitioner and imposed a condition that requires quarterly auditing of his practice for at least two years in relation to deficient medical records and the issuing of medical certificates.
The Medical Board of Australia (the Board) referred Dr Timothy Fitzpatrick, a general practitioner (GP) practising in a small rural community, to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal).
The Board alleged that Dr Fitzpatrick’s issued inappropriate medical certificates and medical statements for six patients between 2016 and 2019 that did not meet the standards of ethical and professional conduct expected of a medical practitioner.
The tribunal heard deficiencies in Dr Fitzpatrick’s record keeping included:
Dr Fitzpatrick also issued a certificate for an extended absence for stress in circumstances where he ought to have considered issuing a Workcover certificate or referral of the patient for further care.
The Board did not suggest that Dr Fitzpatrick was dishonest, nor that the patients did not have reasons for their absences from work on the days or periods of time referred to in the certificates. There was no evidence to the tribunal that the medical certificates he had issued were false.
The tribunal stated that while Dr Fitzpatrick knew the personal circumstances and medical history of each patient he ‘…took some unacceptable shortcuts, skipping the steps (including good record keeping) that are required before a doctor issues a medical certificate to a patient’.
Of particular concern to the tribunal was that Dr Fitzpatrick had issued a certificate to a patient for a period six months into the future. The tribunal stated that such a certificate should not be issued except where the continued documentation of a medical condition is foreseeable, and ongoing management is planned (whether by a GP or others) and recorded.
Dr Fitzpatrick admitted to the conduct early in the Board’s investigation and undertook one-on-one education and made substantial changes to his practice. There has been no repeat of the conduct since the investigation commenced.
The tribunal found five out of six of the allegations proven and the conduct amounted to professional misconduct. It reprimanded Dr Fitzpatrick and imposed a condition that he submit to quarterly audits of his practice for two years with a focus on his record keeping of patient assessments and issuing of medical certificates.
The tribunal in its decision stated that ‘No matter how well-intentioned a doctor may be, they have serious professional and ethical obligations when writing medical certificates, not least because of the trust placed in doctors and the reliance on the certificates by employers and others.’
Read the tribunal’s full decision available on AustLII.