The rise of online forums and “Trip Advisor” type websites has resulted in increased risk to doctors when patients are not satisfied with the care they receive. This firm has seen a surge in patients venting their frustrations with GPs online instead of raising issues with practices directly. There are a number of ways that GPs and their practices can ensure that any grievances are handled effectively as soon as they arise, thus limiting the likelihood that people will resort to public shaming.
- Encourage patient feedback – It is one thing to ask patients to complete feedback forms about their doctors and the practice but this will only matter if their views are being listened to and action is being taken in relation to specific points. The CQC are extremely keen to see that complaints are being fully recorded, resolved and audited to ensure that patterns are identified. A failure to do this will lead the CQC to believe that the practice is not well led, a key area of review at inspection. In addition, if practices are seen to be proactively investigating and resolving complaints, patients will be less likely to go directly to open forums to deride their GP. This approach takes pragmatism as well as approachable and engaging team members who will encourage a dialogue with patients.
- Take escalated concerns seriously – On some occasions patients choose to go directly to the CQC or the GMC with complaints about their doctor. This can happen when patients do not have confidence that a complaint will be properly handled, they wish to remain anonymous or they simply do not know who to complain to. When such formal complaints are made it can have very serious implications for the doctor. In the case of a CQC complaint, this could trigger an inspection that would focus on the subject of the complaint and could potentially lead to an adverse inspection report. When a complaint is made to the GMC this could prompt an investigation into the doctor’s fitness to practise. Such investigations require full co-operation with the GMC and doctors would be advised to engage fully with any requests for information. We regularly advise and act on behalf of doctors subject to such investigations. The GMC will request doctors give their “side of the story” and we strongly advise clients to use this opportunity to provide it in full. Where you disagree with a patient’s complaint you should focus on putting forward a strong case based on documentary evidence, including records and witness statements where relevant. Legal advice should always be sought in these cases because any reputational damage could be significant and long-lasting.
What is most important is the understanding that if a practice has the appropriate complaints policies and procedures in place that are accessible and easy to understand, patients would be likely avoid broadcasting grievances more widely or going directly to public bodies.