“Amorous” patients are increasingly turning to digital means in pursuing a personal relationship with GPs, it is claimed.
According to the Medical Defence Union, patients are using texts, emails and social networking sites to make romantic advances to doctors.
The MDU, which claims to indemnify over half of UK doctors, has been notified of 100 cases where doctors have been on the receiving end of such advances in the last five years, compared to 73 cases in 2002-2006.
It is claimed that while in the past it was “common” for doctors to receive a handwritten letter from a patient expressing their feelings, this year patients are far more likely to ‘poke’ a doctor over Facebook, follow them on Twitter or send them a text message.
The organisation warns doctors must “nip such approaches in the bud at an early stage” and possibly change their mobile numbers or email address to avoid future contact of this nature to ensure patients understand that an intimate, personal relationship is inappropriate.
“The trend towards patients making unsolicited advances to their doctor is not a new one,” said Dr Claire Macaulay, MDU medio-legal advisor.
“But while in the past patients were likely to put pen to paper when making such approaches, patients are now using digital means. While this is hardly surprising, given the increasing use of electronic media, our members report that being bombarded with messages to their mobiles, or email, Twitter or Facebook accounts can, in some ways, be even more intrusive than receiving a stream of written letters.”
Dr Macaulay said “care and diplomacy” are needed by a doctor who should “gently but firmly” ask a patient seeking a personal relationship to stop.
Should a patient continue their advances, doctors may need to transfer their care to another doctor, keep a log of all contacts, and seek further advice from their medical defence organisation.
According to the MDU, GPs, psychiatrists and gynaecologists are among those most commonly approached by patients wanting a relationship. Of the 100 cases from the MDU’s files, 72 cases focused on GPs and 28 on hospital doctors.