GPs are being ‘bombarded’ with messages to their mobile, email, Twitter or Facebook accounts from infatuated patients, said the MDU.
The defence union said the number of enquiries it received from doctors after being on the receiving end of patients making amorous advances had risen to 100 in the last five years compared to 73 cases from 2002 to 2006.
GPs, psychiatrists and gynaecologists were among those most commonly approached by patients wanting a relationship. Some 72 of the 100 cases on the MDU’s files were GPs, and almost three quarters of those receiving unwanted advances were men.
In one case handled by the MDU, a GP was accused of having a sexual relationship with a patient who sent letters and gifts, before the patient, who submitted a complaint to the GMC, admitted this was a fabrication following a six-month-long investigation.
Dr Claire Macaulay, MDU medico-legal adviser said while in the past patients might send letters, now they are likely to send a text or ‘poke’ a GP on Facebook.
She said: The trend towards patients making unsolicited advances to their doctor is not a new one. But while in the past patients were likely to put pen to paper when making such approaches, patients are now using digital means.’
She added that being contacted in this way can be more intrusive than more traditional forms of communication:
She said: ‘Our members report that being bombarded with messages to their mobiles, or email, Twitter or Facebook accounts can, in some ways, be even more intrusive than receiving a stream of written letters.‘
She advised GPs to gently but firmly ask the patient to stop making advances, perhaps with a written explanation that the doctor- patients relationship is a professional one, or to consider transferring the patient’s care to another doctor.
She added that the GP should accept gifts with caution as acceptance could be misconstrued, keep a log of all contacts and to seek advice from their medical defence union.
The MDU’s tips on dealing with amorous patients are:
- Inform the patient politely but firmly that it is impossible for anything other than a purely professional relationship to exist between you and that their actions have overstepped the acceptable boundaries of the doctor/patient relationship.
- Consider transferring the patient’s care to a colleague.
- Keep a log of all calls and contacts.
- Exercise caution before accepting gifts, as acceptance can be misconstrued.
- Use privacy settings on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter
- Consider withholding your mobile number if you use it to contact patients.
- Don’t reply to Facebook messages from patients.
- Contact the MDU for advice as soon as you become aware of any potential difficulties with a patient.