Social media 'fuel rise in complaints against doctors'

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A rise in complaints against doctors reflects the role of social media and negative press coverage of the medical profession, according to a report commissioned by the General Medical Council.

Complaints by the public against doctors doubled between 2007 and 2012.

A research team from Plymouth University was asked to investigate the increase.

The GMC said there was no evidence of falling standards in the profession.

The report does not point to any specific cause for the rise in complaints made by the general public.

They went up from 5,168 complaints in 2007 to 10,347 five years later.

Start Quote

We have no evidence that the rise in complaints against doctors reflects falling standards”

End Quote Niall Dickson GMC chief executive

Instead, it identified a number of trends that it says have made the public more prone to making complaints about their doctors.

The report said patients are now better informed about their health, have higher expectations of doctors and tend to treat them with less deference than they used to.

It said social media also had a role to play in the rise in complaints because it encouraged people to discuss their experiences of the medical profession in public forums and allowed information to be more easily accessed and shared.

Negative press coverage could be "chipping away" at the medical profession's reputation, the report said, resulting in more people making "me too" complaints to the GMC.

'Changes in society'

But while media coverage of high-profile medical cases may have influenced the rise in complaints, it suggested this also gave rise to more complaints that were not relevant to the GMC, which regulates doctors in the UK.

Dr Julian Archer, lead author of the report from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, said the report had produced "some fascinating findings".

He said: "They show that the forces behind a rise in complaints against doctors are hugely complex and reflect a combination of increased public awareness, media influence, the role of social media technology and wider changes in society."

Dr Archer added: "The report also indicated that there is much to do to improve the wider complaint handling system, so that complaints made by the general public about their doctors are directed to the appropriate authorities."

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said the research showed that patients were more willing to complain and found it easier to do so.

But he said: "We have no evidence that the rise in complaints against doctors reflects falling standards."

He agreed that the complaints system itself could be improved.

"The challenge for the GMC and other organisations is to make sure that anyone who has a concern or complaint can find their way to the right organisation to deal with it. For the vast majority of patients and relatives, that will mean local resolution.

"The large number of complaints we receive that are not for us suggests that the current system is not working as well as it should."

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