Social media prompts increase in complaints against doctors

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Public complaints against doctors have doubled for the five-year period between 2007 and 2012.

A research team based at Plymouth University was asked to look into the increase of complaints.

The General Medical Council (GMC) stated that there was no evidence that standards in the profession have declined.

The report which was commissioned by the GMC, does not point to a specific reason for the increase in complaints made by the public. The number increased from 5168 during 2007 to 10347 during 2012. The report has identified a number of trends that may be prompting the public to make complaints about their doctors.

It stated that patients are now much better informed about their health, hence they have higher expectations of their doctors and tend to treat them with less deference than in the past.

It said that social plays a role in the increase in complaints as it encourages people to discuss their experiences in public forums and this information can be shared and accessed easily.

The report stated that negative press coverage may be affecting the reputation of medical professionals which may have resulted in people making more ‘me too’ type complaints to the GMC.

However, while media coverage of high-profile cases may have prompted the increase in complaints, this also gave rise to irrelevant complaints to the GMC, which is responsible for the regulation of UK doctors.

The lead author of the report, Dr Julian Archer from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, said the report had offered ‘some fascinating findings’.

He said it indicates that the forces behind the increase in complaints are complex and reflect a mixture of media influence, increased public awareness, the role of social media and broader societal changes.

Dr Archer said the report indicated that there is much work to be done to try and improve the complaint handling system to allow for complaints made by the general public to be directed to the most appropriate authorities.

The chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said the research indicated that patients were more willing to raise complaints and found it much easier to do so. He stated that there was no evidence that this increase in complaints reflects falling medical standards, and agreed that the complaints system should be improved.

He added that it is a challenge for the GMC and other organisation to ensure that anyone who has a complaint finds the correct organisation to handle it. For most patients, this will mean local resolution.

He stated that the large volume of complaints they receive that are not for them indicates that the current complaints system is ineffective.

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