Complaints handling: Proactive response to patient complaints

Should practices consider monitoring social media forums to counter misinformation with factual evidence and advice?

  • Date: 24 November 2021

A RECENT survey conducted by the BMA found that more than half of GPs questioned had experienced verbal abuse in the past month, while over two-thirds witnessed violence or verbal abuse against colleagues.

At MDDUS we have also noted an increase in requests for advice and training from practices for assistance in managing this serious issue. Such incidents seem to be increasing and are likely being exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-related restrictions, with access to treatment services being a common flashpoint.

Dental practices have experienced similar issues and a likely consequence of this activity will be a significant rise in related patient complaints, to which practices will then have to divert additional time and resources in investigating and responding. This may be particularly relevant now as public goodwill with Covid-19 measures wears thin.

Negative comments

It’s clear that there is much angst and frustration among the general public at present. Further evidence of an increasing public backlash against healthcare services can now be seen through the many negative comments being posted online, and in particular on local social media community forums and pages, as well as other popular national chat groups.

Some of these posts are vitriolic in nature, which is both unacceptable and distressing for the clinicians and practice staff in question. However, there will also be comments which would certainly be classed as a genuine concern or complaint about the service in question.

Common themes in medical practice centre around being unable to get a face-to-face appointment, or even get through on the phone to a local practice. In dental practice, backlogs have led to an increase in concerns being raised related to access to care and perceived delays in treatment.

Examples include:

  • I’ve not been able to get a routine dental check-up for ages. Whose fault will it be when I have decay?
  • My tooth has broken because of the delay in finishing root canal treatment. The practice is never open and when they are, they see hardly any patients.

Keeping an eye on social media posts

Many practices now have their own social media presence through platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, which can make it easier to monitor and understand what is happening in the communities they serve.

However, some practices do not appear to be monitoring social media channels, and by implication are not aware of some of the important issues that patients are raising via local online community forums.

There is always an element of ‘self-policing’ which takes place within these public groups, where other patients will weigh in with more supportive comments or offer suggestions as to why something is happening or has gone wrong. However, what is often missing are source-led facts and practices taking the opportunity to be more proactive in their communication with the wider community: getting accurate, factual and helpful information out there before an issue escalates through the spread of misinformation and rumour.

For example, how many patients actually understand the additional precautions currently in place in dental practice, such as ventilation for AGP and fallow time?

Countering misinformation

There can be valid concerns that engaging with individuals on these types of open online forums may only risk escalating an issue, or create more problems for the practice to deal with.

However, helpful and accurate information can be posted in a neutral manner, without getting into an online argument with individuals. This could mitigate risk to the practice’s local reputation, as well as address potential issues before they escalate.

Ensure that when responding to criticism online you restrict your comments to general service matters and avoid addressing specific patient complaints or other issues, in order to maintain confidentiality (see further guidance below).


Practices should consider monitoring local community public social media forums and be prepared to counter misinformation with factual evidence and helpful advice.

Consider proactive ways to reach the public to communicate important service information and arrangements during the ongoing pandemic.


Alan Frame, risk adviser, MDDUS

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Related Content

Dental complaints handling

Confidentiality for dentists

Complaints handling checklist

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