Intended for healthcare professionals


A patient has complained about me online. What should I do?

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 30 September 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5705
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

It can be upsetting and unsettling to receive a complaint from a patient online. Abi Rimmer speaks to experts on how best to deal with it

“Maintain patient confidentiality”

Ellie Mein, medicolegal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, says, “Unfortunately, online complaints are becoming increasingly common and can be upsetting. Feedback can range from mild dissatisfaction through to abusive comments, so how you approach it will depend on the nature of the complaint.

“Comments on sites such as NHS Choices that amount to a straightforward complaint can be responded to online. Thank the patient for their comments, apologise that they are not happy with their treatment (without giving any details of their care), and invite them to get in touch directly to discuss any concerns. This approach is in line with the NHS complaints procedure, which emphasises the need to be open and honest with complainants and to learn from complaints.

“Remember that any comments made in an online response should maintain patient confidentiality and your professionalism.

“If you believe the comments have the potential to damage your reputation, you could ask the moderator or host of the page to remove them, although this may not always succeed.

“These approaches carry risks and it’s sometimes better to ignore a comment. Your medical defence organisation can advise you how best to …

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