Understanding how external users perceive access and apply GMC professional standards

What were the key findings?

  • It’s rare for practising doctors to seek out formal ethical guidance, and when they do, we’re often not their first port of call. Many doctors and medical students prefer to use other sources of advice, initially looking to their colleagues or turning to other sources such as their medical defence unions. Some found our guidance difficult to interpret or didn’t see the need to access it when ethical issues arise.
  • By contrast, responsible officers, employers, educators and organisations providing advice and information to doctors, refer to Good medical practice quite frequently in their roles. They use it as a basis for the advice and teaching that they prepare for doctors and medical students.
  • Most doctors and medical students feel confident in their knowledge of the principles in Good medical practice. Awareness of the explanatory guidance is relatively low, and very few know about other learning materials we offer. Organisations providing support and advice to doctors and medical students recognise this and would welcome us using a broader range of communication channels and methods.
  • Overall, groups who use our guidance view it as comprehensive and user friendly. There were some criticisms around the search function and indexing on our website.

Why did we commission this research?

We’re responsible for setting the standards that all doctors in the UK follow. We’re reviewing our core ethical guidance, Good medical practice. As part of the review, we wanted to better understand the experiences of those who use our guidance, including how they access it and how they apply it in their work.

The findings will inform decision making throughout this review so that we can make sure our future guidance is accessible and meets the needs of all those who use it.

What did the research involve?

  • An online survey with 50 medical students and doctors lasting two weeks.
  • Telephone interviews with 18 doctors and medical students, including 12 with participants who had recently used ethical guidance and six with seldom heard participants.
  • A short online survey with 34 responsible officers.
  • 30 telephone interviews with advisers, employers and educators.

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Understanding how external users perceive, access and apply GMC professional standards