How should my doctor treat me?

Decisions about your care

You can expect doctors to treat you fairly, with kindness, courtesy, and respect – respecting your dignity and treating you as an individual. It’s important that they listen to you and work with you to assess your needs and priorities, and propose care based on this assessment.

They must share clear and accurate information with you to support you to:

  • understand your condition(s)
  • understand the care options available, including the option to take no action
  • make informed decisions about your care.

It’s important that doctors get your consent (or, if you don’t have capacity, valid authority[1]) before you are examined or treated. If they want to involve you in teaching or research, they’ll also need to get your consent.

No doctor can know everything. They will seek advice from colleagues where appropriate, and refer you to another suitably qualified practitioner if needed. They may also ask you about any other care or treatment you’re receiving, and check that any care or treatment they are suggesting or giving is compatible with it.

If you feel your doctor has not made the right diagnosis or is not offering the right treatment, you can ask for a second opinion.

[1] Eg for children, the parent’s consent, for adults without capacity, the authority of someone with legal power of attorney etc. or Court Order, or in the absence of those things, or in an emergency, the proposed examination, treatment is in the patient’s best interests (of benefit in Scotland).

What do we mean by being fair to patients?

  • Discrimination has no place in healthcare. You can expect your doctor not to allow their personal views to affect your relationship with them, or the treatment they provide or arrange.
  • If you have a condition that puts other people at risk, you’re still entitled to care. There are steps doctors can take, such as wearing gloves or masks – to minimise the risk you pose to their health or safety. If they still can’t treat you themselves, they will make alternative arrangements for you to access the care you need.
  • If a doctor can decide who to treat first, you can expect them to give priority to patients based on their clinical need. They won’t refuse or delay treatment because they believe that your actions or choices contributed to your condition.
  • If a doctor doesn’t want to provide a particular procedure (eg because of a religious or other personal belief they hold), they can’t stand in the way of you accessing it if it’s appropriate and meets your needs. They don’t have to directly refer you to someone who’ll provide the procedure. But they need to make sure you know how to access the procedure from another service or practitioner. 

What do we mean by treating patients with kindness, courtesy and respect?

  • You can expect your doctor to communicate sensitively and considerately, particularly when sharing information about your diagnosis and care. This doesn’t mean withholding relevant information that may be upsetting or unwelcome.
  • It’s important that doctors recognise your knowledge and experience of your health, and acknowledge your concerns. By listening to you and not making assumptions about what you find important, they can support you to understand and make decisions about your care.
  • We don’t expect doctors to agree to every request, but we do expect them to explain the reason for the options they offer.
  • Doctors have to consider that you may be vulnerable, even if you don’t seem it.
  • Whether or not a cure may be possible, it’s important that doctors take your pain and distress seriously and take steps to make you feel comfortable and safe.

Meeting your individual needs

It's important that you and your doctor understand each other so that you can make informed decisions about your care.

You can expect doctors to ask you what support you need. This includes any language or communication needs you have. The steps they take to meet your needs will depend on the seriousness and urgency of the situation, and the availability of resources, such as interpreters.

Doctors must provide a good standard of care, and this applies to face to face or remote consultations (eg telephone, video link, or other online services).

Different specialties and clinics have their own rules on when they offer face to face or remote consultations. But if it’s not possible to safely complete the consultation using one method, it’s important they offer you another method that is safe. For example, in a phone GP consultation, if your doctor needs to assess a skin condition, they could ask you to upload photos.

If a disability means you need a face-to-face appointment, they should offer you one if they are able to do so. If that’s not possible, they should let you know where you can access one (eg another doctor at the practice or another practice).

Vulnerable people

If a doctor suspects you may be vulnerable, it’s important that they:

  • consider your needs and welfare
  • act promptly if they have concerns that you – or someone close to you – may be at risk of abuse or neglect, or is being abused or neglected. For example they may need to contact safeguarding leads.

Making records and sharing information

Medical records that are clear, accurate, and written at the time of the consultation support your ongoing care.

Your doctor may need to share your personal information with colleagues or other health or social care providers. So, it's important that your doctor provides all relevant information – including any reasonable adjustments and communication support preferences. Where practical, they will check someone has taken over responsibility for your care.

You can expect that your records will be held confidentially, and only shared with colleagues to make sure you get the care you need. In general practice, for example, reception staff may manage repeat prescriptions and do other tasks that mean they need to see your records.

If you don’t want some information to be shared by your doctor you should speak to them. Information can be left out if it’s safe to do so. But if your doctor thinks they need to share the information for you to get the right care, they should explain this to you.

Will my doctor talk to my family or friends about my treatment and care?

Medical information is confidential, and you can expect doctors to protect your personal information.

Doctors will usually get your consent before talking about your care with people who are close to you. This is especially important if you could be at risk of harm if those close to you were to know about your care.

If you are not able to make decisions for yourself, or want those close to you to help you make decisions, doctors can talk to them about your care.