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15 August 2018
Patients are increasingly choosing to approach the media, rather than taking a complaint directly to their doctor. If you are contacted by a journalist, it's important to know how to handle the situation appropriately and professionally.
When dealing with the media, it's important to remember that your priority is to your patients and your profession.
The GMC advises in Confidentiality: responding to criticism in the media that your response to the media should usually be limited to explaining your duty of confidentiality. You are legally and ethically bound to respect a patient's confidentiality at all times.
Because of this, doctors are usually unable to give their side of the story. No such constraints are placed on patients when making allegations or statements to the press, and media coverage can often seem very one-sided as a result.
This can be frustrating, but you must remember that patient confidentiality comes first.
The GMC's Good medical practice (2013) states that doctors should 'act with integrity' and 'work in partnership with patients'. Keep this in mind when considering your interactions with the press.
Getting into a public dispute can be seen as unprofessional. Clashes between doctors and patients in the media can prolong or even worsen the situation, and may undermine the public's confidence in you and your profession.
If you are approached by the media for any reason, you may find it helpful to follow some basic rules.
It's possible to inadvertently confirm something by denial or omission. Even something as simple as confirming that someone is a patient may breach your legal and ethical obligations.
As well as your comments, the press may want to take your picture to accompany their story.
It's best to keep communication with the press to a minimum. This will help maintain both your professionalism and your duties to your patients.
If you do need to make a statement - for example, if a case against you has concluded in your favour - the MDU's press office can help you draft a suitable response, and can be reached on 020 7202 1535.
Alternatively, call the MDU's medico-legal helpline on 0800 716 646.
This guidance was correct at publication 15/08/2018. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.
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