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Poor attitude top reason for GP complaints – how you should respond

by Alice Harrold
25 January 2017

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Bad attitude and communication are some of the top reasons for GP complaints, a YouGov survey of over 2,000 members of the public has revealed.

Three of the top five reasons for having made a complaint about a GP relate to poor communication and behaviour, ahead for the first time of clinical issues.

The surveycommissioned by the Medical Protection Society, showed that the top driver for a GP complaint was poor manner and attitude (32%), followed by misdiagnosis (20%). The next highest reasons were unmet expectations (18%), a breakdown in communication (16%) and a poor outcome following treatment (13%).

It was also found that good communication could prevent problems leading to complaints. Eight out of ten people (82%) said they would be unlikely to complain if their GP communicated with them “openly and with empathy”, while 76% said they would be unlikely to complain if their GP explained the reasons why they could not meet their expectations.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, senior medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection said:“While most doctors appreciate the need for good communication, the importance of manner, body and language tone can sometimes be overlooked in a busy clinic and under the pressure of a 10 minute consultation.

“Making a patient feel relaxed and that they are being listened to, can make the difference between a positive experience, and a consultation which leaves a patient feeling dissatisfied and more likely to seek redress.

“We always encourage doctors to establish a patient’s expectations as early on as possible to prevent a misunderstanding on what is and isn’t possible,” Dr Bradshaw said.

Practice manager and consultant, Fiona Dalziel told Management in Practice said that GPs could react badly if confronted with statistics which suggest that they have a poor attitude. “The data should therefore be used with care, and a general harangue telling GPs they need to improve their manner will not generate a positive response. However, the data can be used more subtly in the practice,” she said.

“It may be that practice managers have noticed stress symptoms expressing themselves in GPs’ behaviour and are concerned about what to do. They should therefore think carefully about ways of recognising and mitigating stress in a way which will support GPs under pressure.

“For some, this may involve looking at workload management and for others may involve taking a wider look at how the practice works. It may be that carving out time in the day to all get together for coffee may be a simple way of feeling that the burden is a shared one and avoiding isolation.

“Whatever managers decide to do about this data, it at least should be regarded as a possible indicator of the increased pressure under which GPs are working,” Dalziel said.