GP conduct makes case for elder retirement

The case of a Victorian country doctor who prescribed himself medication more than 100 times raises questions about when elderly medical practitioners should retire, a tribunal suggests.

The doctor, who cannot be named for legal reasons, served as a general practitioner for 57 years and retired in 2019, before the medical regulator pursued him over misconduct.

The doctor prescribed his own medication 106 times, and recorded 107 surgery consultations with himself between 2008 and 2019, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found.

He generally prescribed himself medication in-line with what his own treating GP said he should take.

However, an investigator contended that was "lazy", given he could have had a consultation with his GP or phoned them to get the medication.

"This is sloppy and lazy practice but the clinical decisions seem to have rested with his GP and surgeon which is a good thing," the investigator said.

More concerningly, the doctor - aged 84 - frequently prescribed medication for his close family member over a decade.

He gave the family member scripts when it was "highly desirable" they get medication promptly to stop their conditions from getting worse ahead of visiting their GP, he said.

It could take up to a week for the family member to get an appointment with their usual GP.

Records showed, though, that the family member had 77 surgery consultations with the doctor - 30 more than with their primary GP.

"Overall, the ongoing nature was not episodic but more systemic and should not have occurred," the investigator said.

The doctor struggled to adapt to changes in his later years practising, tribunal members said.

He found it difficult to switch from taking notes by hand to a computer, and failed to keep up with professional development when it came to some aspects of treating patients.

The board alleged the doctor failed to maintain up-to-date and legible medical records for two patients.

Doctors at a clinic where he worked raised concerns about his standard of care for some patients, prompting him to bring his retirement forward in 2019.

His case was an "illustration of the difficulties which older medical practitioners can encounter in continuing to practise competently", the tribunal members said.

It also demonstrated how they might struggle to adapt and upskill to keep abreast of standards, regulatory requirements, and changing technology.

"It highlights the need for such practitioners, and those around them, thoughtfully and insightfully, to consider the question of when to retire from active medical practice," the tribunal members said.

The Medical Board of Australia suggested the doctor be reprimanded and disqualified from re-applying for registration for three months.

However, the tribunal found that was unnecessary, noting he had already relinquished his registration.