Health: Be gentle with me, patient

Health Check

WE HEAR a lot about rude doctors (see the main article on this page) but rather less about rude patients. Yet the capacity to hurt, insult and offend is not confined to one side of the surgery desk.

Patients can make their doctors' lives a misery just as doctors can negatively affect their patients, and in our increasingly complaining culture, opportunities for doing so are growing.

A snapshot of the effect this is having is provided by a disturbing study of 30 GPs in one area of south London who had had to deal with a complaint from a patient.

The doctors describe the traumatic effect of the complaint on their confidence, their clinical judgement and their professional pride.

They reacted variously with shock and panic, a sense of indignation towards all patients, anger, depression and even, in some cases, attempted suicide. The complaints triggered doubts about their clinical competence and conflicts with family and colleagues.

Two anecdotes encapsulate the response. One GP said that patients now regarded doctors like a supermarket.

"If patients don't like something, they complain, and you get this ethos that patients are `entitled to this' and `entitled to that'," he said. "Patients' attitude is now: `If you don't give it to me, I will complain or I will see my solicitors.'"

Another doctor expressed her sense of disappointment and defeat: "Sometimes I wonder why I go out of the way to help all my patients: just do a short consultation and that's the end of the matter.

"I just feel it's a waste of time trying to help because when it comes to the complaint, whatever good you have done is all wiped out by the complaint."

Management experts counsel us to learn from our mistakes but what is distinctive about these GPs is how, for them, the experience of receiving a complaint was almost universally negative. Few managed to construe the complaints in a positive light, as opportunities for improving their practice, although one of them did say that he regarded every complaint as a "treasure".

The British Medical Journal, which published the study last week, observed that the GPs responded by becoming more defensive in their practice and offering a less appropriate service. As its editor, Richard Smith, notes: "This is a chilling study, because it seems likely that in the future most doctors will have complaints made against them."

Doctors have been knocked from their pedestals, certainly. Patients are taking a more equal role in determining their care and in questioning what doctors advise and prescribe.

But along with these healthy developments has grown a blame culture in which intimidating those who make mistakes has taken precedence over the spirit of teaching and learning in which complaints ought, ideally, to be made and received.

Dr Smith suggests failure is a greater taboo than sex or money. Doctors - all of whom have known the success of getting into and graduating from medical school - have great difficulties with failure.

He cites Winston Churchill who regarded success as "the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." It is useful advice for doctors - and for the rest of us.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup