Do the public wonder what their doctor gets up to outside of work? Do they care if their doctor has a financial stake in the treatment options in their area or if it is OK for a doctor to let their personal beliefs guide the care they offer? And how would people feel if their doctor is involved in crime?
We were commissioned to explore what the public expects of doctors in the most recent review of the Good Medical Practice, the core guidance for all doctors, setting out the values and principles for good practice.
The General Medical Council consulted the general public and we added to this by speaking to people from ‘seldom heard’ groups - from members of the Gypsy and traveller community, to refugees, to retirees. We found that the public has realistic expectations of doctors. Like other professionals, in working hours they are expected to provide the best possible service, and while there were some issues that could undermine patient trust, the general public were under no illusion that doctors are, or should be, a morally superior species.
Doctors were expected to leave their personal beliefs ‘at the door’, and it was felt that their privacy should be respected. It was acknowledged, however, that some personal beliefs could impact on care. Abortion was a difficult one - some felt that doctors who opposed it should have the right to refer cases to colleagues, while others we spoke to said that it was simply part of a doctor’s role and that they should be able to set their personal beliefs aside.
The public were not particularly perturbed by the idea of doctors having a financial conflict of interest, for example a stake in a local care home. Provided this interest was declared and patient care wasn't affected, the public did not think it mattered. However, criminal behaviour was considered significant, whether or not it impacted on patient care, because it could undermine patients’ trust in doctors.
What emerged from our research is that the public were only truly concerned by two things: delivering good quality care and trust. So there are expectations of doctors, but the greatest expectations are of how they conduct themselves in working hours - they are expected to be good communicators, listen and be trustworthy. As long as their life outside of work doesn't affect their ability to provide a high standard of care – and they’re not involved in crime – the public do not expect doctors to live a life of great virtue. Pretty reasonable expectations I’m sure you’d agree.