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Poor communication is the most common reason for complaints against doctors in Canada, and doctors who do badly in communication tests are most likely to generate complaints, researchers have found.
Medical graduates in Canada must pass the clinical skills examination to get a licence. When researchers looked for a link between scores in the communication part of this test and complaints during up to 12 years of practice, they found that doctors in the lowest quarter were 52% more likely to have a complaint upheld against them than those in the top quarter (adjusted relative risk 1.52; 95% CI 1.30 to 1.78). One in 10 of all upheld complaints were accounted for by doctors in the lowest group (population attributable fraction 10%, 6.0% to 13.9%). Overall, 17% of the 3424 doctors in the study had at least one complaint upheld against them. Almost half the complaints were about poor communication or attitude.
This suggests that a national licensing assessment can help predict a doctor's likelihood of attracting complaints, say the researchers, although the association found here wasn't particularly strong. Perhaps the clinical skills examination and other tests can be improved to assess communication skills more efficiently. Then we can begin to establish whether targeted training for those who struggle can reduce complaints.