I’ve been a doctor for 30 years now and I remember my failures more than my successes. Even good doctors make mistakes, and how to deal with them poses a major challenge to both doctor and patient. Certainly it is part of modern medical culture that doctors admit their errors, learn from them and fix them if they can.
So what should you do if you feel you have been really let down by your GP? A typical response is not to say anything. Like the bad restaurant or terrible haircut, what we tend to do is never go back, and complain only to our friends. The vast majority of the time the practice never knows what went wrong and consequently doesn’t get the chance to improve their service. Or, on the other hand, there are over-reactors who terminate a long term good medical relationship because of a minor mishap. It’s quite hard to get the right balance but here are some guidelines which should get you the best outcome:
Think of it as feedback. Most people don’t want to “complain” as such, but every practice will appreciate knowing what they could have been done better. We are all learning and sometimes GPs have no idea that their manner is off-putting, their receptionist is grumpy or their telephone system is a pain. You can speak to anyone in the practice that you feel comfortable with and nothing has to be put in writing if you don’t want to. Your feedback should be received supportively and an initial response received within a few days. We were recently alerted to a problem with our text reminders and made changes as a consequence.
Be polite. While it might be satisfying to accuse the doctor of getting his degree in a cereal packet, it’s probably not going to get the best result. A medical relationship is based on mutual respect so avoid the shouty fonts, exclamation marks and gratuitous slagging. If it takes a few days to settle down before you complain it’s probably worth the wait.
Be fair. General practice is tricky and it’s hard to get it right every time. In the early stages of any illness the diagnosis and prognosis might be uncertain. Occasionally your doctor knows more than Dr Google or your best friend who knows everything. Ask for an explanation before you make a judgement about whether your treatment was reasonable in the circumstances.