Research Articles

Practice of community-service doctors in the assessment and medico-legal documentation of common physical assault cases

L Fouché, J Bezuidenhout, C Liebenberg, A O Adefuye
South African Family Practice | Vol 60, No 1 : January/February| a4845 | DOI: | ©
Submitted: 17 March 2018 | Published:

About the author(s)

L Fouché, University of the Free State, South Africa
J Bezuidenhout, University of the Free State, South Africa
C Liebenberg, University of the Free State
A O Adefuye, University of the Free State, South Africa

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Background: In South Africa, allegations of physical assault are managed primarily at the primary healthcare level, where they are attended to by medical officers or community service doctors (CSDs). However, reports that the knowledge and skills provided at undergraduate level are not sufficient to equip these CSDs to deal with evidence in medico-legal examinations in various settings, including in cases of patients who allege being the victims of common physical assault or assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm, have been documented in the literature. This study investigates the practice of CSDs in relation to the assessment and medico-legal documentation of allegations of common assault, with a view to identifying gaps in their knowledge of clinical forensic medicine.

Method: The study was a cross-sectional descriptive study. A questionnaire with quantitative sections that used an adapted Likert scale was used to gather data. An electronic survey tool was employed to target 150 CSDs countrywide. Percentages are used to display results.

Results: A response rate of 59.3% was achieved and results indicate that clinical forensic training in the undergraduate medical programme does not prepare CSDs sufficiently for the task of managing the medico-legal examination and documentation of allegations of assault by patients.

Conclusions: The courts rely heavily on medico-legal documentation for success in criminal prosecution. Any substantial flaw in the documentation, including inadequate observations and/or notes made by a medical practitioner, may make proving guilt very difficult. This study revealed an important gap in the knowledge and practice of clinical forensic medicine by CSDs and suggests that the current curriculum should be adapted to allow adequate training of undergraduate medical students in the area of clinical forensic medicine. Appropriate undergraduate training will ensure that medico-legal documentation is completed accurately and that medical practitioners help ensure the administration of justice.

(Full text of the research articles are available online at

S Afr Fam Pract 2018; DOI: 10.1080/20786190.2017.1364014


assault; clinical forensic medicine and curriculum; medico-legal documentation


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