Twice the doctor

Dunedin GP Dr Katharine Wallis will graduate from the University of Otago today with a PhD, which focuses on better protecting patients. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Dunedin GP Dr Katharine Wallis will graduate from the University of Otago today with a PhD, which focuses on better protecting patients. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Dunedin general practitioner Dr Katharine Wallis becomes ''doctor doctor'' today when she graduates from the University of Otago with a PhD to add to her earlier Otago medical qualifications.

Her PhD, in general practice and rural health, focuses on aspects of fostering a ''culture of safety'' to better protect patients.

She was ''very happy'' to be graduating today, among about 270 graduands, in a 1pm ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall.

Improving patient safety in primary medical care involved, in some cases, quite simple things such as avoiding the storage of different medications with similar-looking packets beside each other in a refrigerator, she said yesterday.

A niece of retired Wanaka aviator and businessman Sir Tim Wallis, Dr Wallis has been practising at the Waverley Health Centre with her husband, Dr Paul Johns, for the past 20 years.

Most New Zealand doctors were trying ''to help, or at least do no harm'' - as contained in the Hippocratic Oath - but thousands of patients were harmed by treatment every year, she said.

Her research findings suggested that New Zealand's system of no-fault compensation for treatment injury - instead of a more punitive approach - supported the development of a culture of safety by ''engendering openness about medical injury''.

''We just need to make the most of the system that we've developed,'' she said.

It was not easy to change people's attitudes, but a culture of safety was ''important for protecting patients from harm''.

She had adapted to New Zealand conditions a ''safety culture tool'' developed in Manchester, and its use was supported by New Zealand's medical regulatory structure.

This procedural tool could be used in general practices to ''strengthen safety culture'' by educating practice staff and ''facilitating team communication''.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz