This series highlights common medicolegal issues in general practice. Written by a team from medical defence organisation Avant, the series is based on actual cases, with details changed for privacy and some issues summarised for the sake of discussion. In this scenario, a locum GP is asked to complete a death certificate for a patient who dies suddenly in an aged care facility. It explores potential medicolegal issues for doctors, particularly when the death is unexpected or they do not know the patient well.
The death of a patient, particularly if unexpected, may require doctors to navigate several medicolegal issues. In many cases, doctors will need to decide whether they can complete the medical certificate stating cause of death (‘death certificate’) or whether the death needs to be reported to the Coroner.1 The task of completing a death certificate often falls to junior hospital doctors, GPs and locums, who may feel under pressure to sign the death certificate so as to avoid delays and distress for the patient’s family. Even in more straightforward situations, the law can be confusing, and doctors can be unsure about their obligations. The following scenario involving a patient who dies unexpectedly in an aged care facility illustrates some of the pitfalls that GPs can encounter.