The rise in the use of social media has contributed to a doubling of complaints against doctors in five years, it has been reported.
Negative press coverage and a decline in “deference” towards doctors from patients has led to the soaring number of complaints, which rose from 5,168 in 2007 to 10,347 in 2012.
The General Medical Council, which regulates all doctors in the UK, commissioned researchers from Plymouth University to investigate the rise. It also said there was no evidence of falling standards across the profession.
Researchers instead found social media such as Facebook and Twitter meant patients could better discuss their experiences of the medical profession and share information.
The report found patients were better informed about their health and had higher expectations of doctors and were less deferential towards them than in the past.
Patients were also more likely to complain.
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Negative press coverage of the medical profession was also seen to have sparked a surge in complaints, with people emboldened to contact the GMC after seeing others may have shared their grievances.
But it also fuelled a rise in complaints not relevant to the GMC, and which should have been made to other medical bodies.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said while patients now found it easier to make complaints and more were doing so, there was no evidence that the rise reflected falling standards.
He said: “The challenge for the GMC and other organisations is to make sure that anyone who has a concern or complaint can find their way to the right organisation to deal with it. For the vast majority of patients and relatives, that will mean local resolution.
“The large number of complaints we receive that are not for us suggests that the current system is not working as well as it should.”
Julian Archer, from the university’s Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and the report’s lead author, said the findings showed the reasons behind complaints were “hugely complex” and reflected increased public awareness, the influence of media and the role of technology.
He said: “The report also indicated that there is much to do to improve the wider complaint handling system, so that complaints made by the general public about their doctors are directed to the appropriate authorities.”