Half of patients think GPs should always give them the treatment or referral they demand

Half of patients now Google their symptoms before visiting a GP and believe that family doctors should always provide the prescription, treatment or referral they request, according to a poll commissioned by a medico-legal organisation.

Half of respondents to a poll of 2,021 British adults by pollsters YouGov on behalf of Medical Protection said that they believed 'their GP should always give them the prescription, treatment, or referral to a specialist they request'.

Almost half (47%) said they searched for symptoms or a possible diagnosis before visiting the GP, and just over one in five (21%) respondents said they had challenged their GP's diagnosis.

The poll also found that patients see the clinical expertise of their GP as the most important factor for them in a consultation, with 23% identifying this as the top issue. In a separate poll of its members, Medical Protection found that GPs believed their 'bedside manner' was the most important factor for patients, with 43% rating this top.

GP consultations

Both patients and GPs rated having enough time in consultations as the second-most important issue, from a shortlist including communication, out-of-hours access, honesty, shared decision making and other issues.

Meanwhile, 80% of patients said their GP meets their needs and expectations - broadly in line with the findings of the national GP satisfaction survey.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, senior medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection, said that with more patients looking up health information online, GPs needed to know how to manage expectations.

'Patients who search their symptoms and possible diagnosis online before visiting their GP may have a preconceived idea of what their diagnosis is and how the condition should be treated. When these expectations are not met, it can lead to patients feeling dissatisfied, a breakdown in the doctor-patient relationship and a greater risk of the patient pursuing a complaint or claim against the GP.

Read more: What do patients really want from their GP?

'GPs should always try to establish exactly what their patient’s expectations are and whether they have any specific anxieties. There should also be a focus on clearly addressing expectations throughout the consultation and involving the patient in decisions around how to manage any issues.'

GPs should not dismiss unrealistic expectations or false beliefs held by patients without discussion, she warned. Involving patients in shared decision-making was a fundamental part of doctors' professional, legal and ethical obligations, she said.

'During the consultation, it may also be appropriate for GPs to encourage patients to be cautious about self-diagnosis via the internet. They can also guide patients to useful health resources and patient group sites which may help with their ongoing healthcare.'

Photo: iStock

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