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Doctors facing more patient complaints online

Growing trend to raise concerns on social media instead of official channels

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Doctors are unsure how to deal with an increasing number of complaints that patients have made about them on social media rather than through the official channels, warns the Medical Defence Union.

The MDU reports that it has seen a sharp increase over the past five years in the number of doctors asking for advice on how to handle comments made about them online. Since 2010 the number of MDU members who have contacted the MDU after finding themselves the subject of attention on sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and NHS Choices has risen by 400%.

MDU medicolegal adviser Dr Richenda Tisdale said: “In 2010, the MDU press office had requests from just two members for advice on dealing with complaints on social media. In the first quarter of 2014 we have already had requests for help from eight members.

“Although the figures are not huge, they have increased dramatically and reveal an upward trend of patients taking their concerns to social media as well as, or more worryingly, instead of following the formal methods of making a complaint. This is often unexpected by the doctors and so increasingly they are calling on the services of the MDU press office for advice and assistance.

“Of course, patients are entitled to express their dissatisfaction online but it is a concerning trend. If, for example, the doctor never finds out that a patient has posted negative comments, they will be unable to address and resolve them.”

The MDU advises doctors who discover that they are the subject of a patient complaint made online to:

  • Think carefully before responding online and always seek advice from your medical defence organisation.
  • If the online comments are part of wider pre-existing issue, contact the team from your defence organisation who are already assisting you in the first instance.
  • Bear in mind your duty of confidentiality. The GMC has issued guidance on responding to criticism in the press; although this is directed at the traditional media, the same principles may apply.
  • Consider a short response inviting the patient to contact the GP practice or hospital complaints department directly so that any concerns can be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner.
  • If it is decided that a short response is the best course of action, be polite, do not make excuses and do not get drawn into a ‘war of words’ or argument with the patient online.

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