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Surge in patient complaints over social media

22 April 2014

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Patient complaints on social media have driven 400% more calls for help from  doctors since 2010, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has claimed. 

Figures released by the organisation reveal that patients are increasingly turning to websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and NHS Choices to criticise doctors. 

Dr Richenda Tisdale, medico-legal adviser at the MDU said that in 2010 there were only two complaints from members. 

However, in the first four months of 2014, there had already been eight requests for help. 

Dr Tisdale admitted that the figures are “not huge” but said they have “increased dramatically. 

She said: “[The figures] 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 Medical Defence Union advises doctors who find they are the subject of a patient complaint 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, and while this is directed at the traditional media, the same principles may apply.[i]

 – 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.