Maria Cosmidis and Dr Geoff Brieger sat down with us to talk about their experience and role as Medical Council members. From their perspective as decision-makers, they share insights about steps doctors can take to avoid a complaint and what to do if they are the subject of a complaint to the Council.
MCNSW: Tell me about where you both come from, for example, your professional backgrounds and your interests
Maria Cosmidis (MC): I am a trained social worker. I have worked in government, the not for profit and corporate sectors in CEO and senior executive positions. My background is primarily in community engagement, multicultural affairs and governance. Currently, I sit on the Medical Council as well as the board of two cemeteries.
Dr Geoff Brieger (GB): I’m an obstetrician/gynaecologist and have been practising medicine since 1987. I’ve worked in Sydney and overseas in both public and private settings. My training began at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and over time I was appointed to other hospitals. Ultimately, I decided to concentrate on obstetrics.
MCNSW: Why did you join the Medical Council of NSW? What did you envision you were joining?
MC: I wanted to contribute by representing the community. I had no preconceived ideas about how the Council works if there were any other community members, and I didn’t know how Council medical practitioners were selected.
GB: I was approached about a position one of the Council’s decision-making committees when I’d only been in practice for about 10-15 years. When I was approached a second time, I accepted as I’d had more real-world experience in the profession.
When you join a Council Committee, you envisage that’s all it is. But as you become more involved, you realise it’s much more complicated. Dealing with complaints about doctors is only a small part of the work of the Council. There’s medicine, the law and dealing with different stakeholders. It’s complex. It’s like learning another career when you’re mid-career.
MCNSW: What are the biggest myths you have heard about the Medical Council and what has been the reality?
MC: While not a myth as such, I didn’t appreciate how long it can take for a matter to run from the time of the alleged incident giving rise to the complaint to there being an outcome. I often get feedback from members of the community expressing frustration about what they see as an excessive delay. Some matters are very complex and take a long time to determine what the issues are and how they are best resolved.
GB: There is a myth the Medical Council is there to protect practitioners rather than the public. I for one had always assumed that we paid our registration and the Medical Council would look after the medical practitioner. In fact, we pay our registration so that the public is looked after. Of course doctors are also members of the public. It is all about protecting the public. That should not be a secret.
MCNSW: What advice you would give doctors?
MC: My advice would be to do everything within your power to ensure that your patient is informed, understands what you’re recommending and you gain the appropriate consent before you take any action. We receive so many complaints where a lack of good communication is the core issue.
Secondly, if you do come before Council, engage in the process in an honest and forthright manner.
Each matter is assessed on its individual circumstances. The more you engage in the process and the more willing you are to take on any advice Council might provide, the smoother the process will be.
The stress and anxiety for doctors that have been subject to complaints. Please make sure you talk to your medical indemnity insurer, talk to family and friends, make sure you go to your own GP and take care of yourself during the process.
GB: If you make a mistake, take ownership of it, take responsibility for it and learn from that mistake. Don’t try and pretend it didn’t happen or blame someone else.
Don’t practise beyond where you feel comfortable. Don’t be pushed into a situation that you are not ready for or that may make you the subject of a complaint.
It often does come down to communication and good medical records. You have to be able to competently communicate with your patients, Council when needed, and your indemnity provider.
It is reassuring to know that only a small number of medical practitioners will ever need to interact with the Medical Council. But if you are required to respond to a complaint, be honest, reflective and if you have made a mistake, put measures in place so the situation will not recur.