Facebook and Twitter 'fuel doubling in complaints against doctors'

A reduced deference to the medical profession also makes patients more likely to complain, report finds

Official complaints against doctors doubled between 2007 and 2012 thanks to the availability of social media and negative press coverage of the medical profession, says a new report commissioned by the General Medical Council.

Over the same time period researchers from Plymouth University found that there was no evidence of falling standards but that patients had higher expectations of doctors and treated them with less deference.

The number of complaints went up from 5,168 in 2007 to 10,347 in 2012, with the GMC noting that social media and online forums encouraged patients to discuss their experiences and emboldening them to lodge complaints.

Dr Julian Archer, from the university’s Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and the report’s lead author, said the reasons for the rise in complaints were “hugely” complex and reflected a “combination of increased public awareness, media influence, the role of social media technology and wider changes in society."

He 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, added that while more patients complained and found it easier to do so this did not reflect falling standards. He did add that the challenge for the GMC and other organisations was to find better ways to deal with these complaints.

“For the vast majority of patients and relatives, that will mean local resolution,” he said. "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."

Additional reporting by AP

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