Responding to criticism in the media
In our guidance Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information we say:
1. Trust is an essential part of the doctor-patient relationship and confidentiality is central to this. Patients may avoid seeking medical help, or may under-report symptoms, if they think that their personal information will be disclosed by doctors without consent, or without the chance to have some control over the timing or amount of information shared.
About this guidance
Doctors are sometimes criticised in print or broadcast media or on social media1 by their patients2 or by someone who is close to, or who represents, a patient. The criticism can include inaccurate or misleading details of the doctor’s diagnosis, treatment or behaviour.
In this guidance, ‘patient’ refers to both current and former patients.
Although this can be frustrating or distressing, it does not relieve you of your duty to respect your patient’s confidentiality. This guidance, which forms part of the professional standards, sets out how the general principles in our guidance Confidentiality apply when doctors are considering how to respond to criticism in the media.
The professional standards describe good practice, and not every departure from them will be considered serious. You must use your professional judgement to apply the standards to your day-to-day practice. If you do this, act in good faith and in the interests of patients, you will be able to explain and justify your decisions and actions. We say more about professional judgement, and how the professional standards relate to our fitness to practise processes, appraisal and revalidation , at the beginning of Good medical practice.
Responding to criticism
Disclosures of patient information without consent can undermine the public’s trust in the profession as well as your patient’s trust in you. Disputes between patients and doctors conducted in public can also prolong or intensify conflict and may undermine public confidence in the profession, even if they do not involve the disclosure of personal information without consent.
You must not put information you have learned in confidence about a patient in the public domain without that patient’s explicit consent. You should usually limit your public response to an explanation of your legal and professional duty of confidentiality.
However, from time to time, media reports or social media discussions might cause patients to be concerned about your practice, or that of a health service you are associated with. In such cases it may be appropriate to give general information about your normal practice. You must be careful not to reveal personal information about a patient, or to give an account of their care, without their consent. If you deny allegations that appear in public media, you must be careful not to reveal, directly or by omission or inference, any more personal information about the patient than a simple denial demands.
You should seek advice from your professional or defence body, or from a solicitor, on how to respond to criticism in the media and, if appropriate, any legal redress available to you.