Views of healthcare consumer representatives on defensive practice: ‘We are your biggest advocate and supporter… not the enemy’

N.M. Ries*, B. Johnston, J. Jansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background The patient-clinician interaction is a site at which defensive practice could occur, when clinicians provide tests, procedures and treatments mainly to reduce perceived legal risks, rather than to advance patient care. Defensive practice is a driver of low-value care and exposes patients to the risks of unnecessary interventions. To date, patient perspectives on defensive practice and its impacts on them are largely missing from the literature. This exploratory study conducted in Australia aimed to examine the views and experiences of healthcare consumer representatives in this under-examined area. Methods Semi-structured interviews were conducted with healthcare consumer representatives involved in healthcare consumer advocacy organisations in Australia. Data were transcribed and analysed thematically. Results Nine healthcare consumer representatives participated. Most had over 20 years of involvement and advocacy in healthcare, including personal experiences as a patient or carer and/or formal service roles on committees or complaint bodies for healthcare organisations. Participants uniformly viewed defensive practice as having a negative impact on the clinician-patient relationship. Themes identified the importance of fostering patient-clinician partnership, effective communication and informed decision-making. The themes support a shift from the concept of defensive practice to preventive practice in partnership, which focuses on the shared interests of patients and clinicians in achieving safe and high-value care. Conclusion This Australian study offers healthcare consumers' perspectives on the impacts of defensive practice on patients. The findings highlight the features of clinician-patient partnership that will help to improve communication and decision-making, and prevent the defensive provision of low-value care. Patient or Public Contribution Healthcare consumer representatives were involved as participants in this study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)374-383
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Expectations
Issue number1
Early online date3 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • defensive practice
  • healthcare consumer
  • interview
  • low-value care
  • partnership
  • patient
  • qualitative
  • RISK


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