Originally published September 2020 / Revised May 2021
The information in this article was correct at the time of publishing
Physicians facing a medico-legal concern, legal action, or complaint while practising during the COVID-19 pandemic can experience a double hit of distressing emotions. Confusion, disappointment, self-doubt, guilt, and shame created by a medico-legal matter can be joined by fear, anxiety, and uncertainty created by the pandemic. All of these can take a toll on physicians’ health and wellbeing and, possibly, their ability to practise safely.1
When you as a CMPA member contact us with a medico-legal concern, you will be connected with one of our physician advisors. These knowledgeable physicians will support you with expert medico-legal advice. But, more than that, they will help you manage the emotions you may experience from a medico-legal concern. And, if needed, they will guide you to other resources to support your wellbeing.
Our physician advisors are here for you
Physician advisors are physicians with medico-legal expertise, who understand what it’s like to deal with a medico-legal event. They have personal experience with the demands of being in active practice. In addition, they receive ongoing medico-legal training on issues that can affect your practice, from medical assistance in dying to electronic records.
Over and above these areas of expertise, physician advisors are trained to support your health during a medico-legal difficulty.
When you reach out to the Association, you can speak to a physician advisor who will begin by listening to you with care and empathy. They will then advise and guide you in finding a suitable resolution to your specific situation.
As part of that assistance, they may encourage you to take a pause and talk about your feelings and anxieties. It’s important to acknowledge the personal cost of a medico-legal concern. They may talk to you about treating yourself with compassion and being alert to the potential risks to your emotional health and your ability to practise safely.
There is a link between physician health and quality of care. Research shows that feelings of distress may reduce physicians’ ability to deliver care, increase their medical-legal risks, and impact the healthcare system. 234
Speaking with one of our physician advisors is like being in a safe space. Conversations are confidential, empathetic, and non-judgmental.5 The physician advisors know that during medico-legal difficulties, members often experience many normal, human feelings such as sadness and anger. They are also trained to recognize difficult emotions, including stress or distress. If you need additional emotional support, they will guide you to other resources that can help you take the steps necessary to improve wellness.
You can see for yourself how physician advisors approach these discussions by watching a series of videos on the Association’s physician wellness web page. Here you can witness physician advisors, along with CMPA-appointed lawyers, describing in their own words how they can support you in managing your emotions.
Support that makes a difference
Members have told us that talking peer-to-peer to a CMPA physician advisor makes a difference to their feelings of wellbeing. A survey of members found the average level of stress drops by 33% following a phone call with a physician advisor. As well, 96% agreed that the physician advisor created a non-judgmental and supportive environment.6
Our physician advisors have pulled together a number of wellness resources that may help you take care of your emotional and mental health. Go to the physician wellness page to find links to provincial and territorial physician health programs, as well as CMPA articles with information on working through various medical-legal matters such as College and hospital complaints. In addition, on the wellness page you'll find a link to a list of health resources for front-line workers specific to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bottom line
If you have a medico-legal issue or concern, no matter how small, contact the CMPA and speak with one of our physician advisors for peer-to-peer support. They will give you expert advice and guidance, along with a safe space to talk about the emotions you may be experiencing.
- Canadian Medical Protective Association. Ottawa:CMPA;2018. Supporting physician wellness [cited 2020 Aug 10]
- Wallace J, Lemaire, J, Ghali W. Physician wellness: A missing quality indicator. Lancet. 2009:374(9702); 1714-1721
- Shanafelt T, Goh J, Sinsky C. The business case for investing in physician well-being. JAMA Intern Med. 2017:177(12);1826-1832
- West C, Huschla M, Novotny P, et al. Association of perceived medical errors with resident distress and empathy. A prospective longitudinal study. JAMA. 2006:296(9);1071-1078
- Canadian Medical Protective Association. Physicians supporting physicians. Ottawa (CA):CMPA;2020. [cited 2020 Feb. 24]
- Canadian Medical Protective Association. CMPA;2020. 2019 Annual Report Highlights [cited 2020 Aug 3]