Around one in three doctors think they often receive faster and better medical care than other patients, a survey revealed.
Some doctors expect to be treated differently when they seek medical advice because they are doctors themselves, according to the research from Medscape UK.
The General Medical Council (GMC) discourages doctors from treating themselves, but the identity challenges that occur when doctors become patients is well supported by medical literature.
The 'Doctors as Patients' report is based on a survey of 826 UK doctors conducted between 25 March and 31 July 2023.
All the respondents said that they had a GP, but one in five (22%) said they were able to refer themselves to a specialist if needed.
When seeking medical advice, one in three doctors said they expected to be treated differently as a patient because they were a doctor.
Respondents were probed about the attitude of doctors treating them if their professional expertise became known. This varied between one patient-doctor reporting that a GP took "more notice", while another thought GPs went "on guard" or even tried to avoid having a consulation.
More Doctor Patients Described Worse Than Better Care
Around a third (34%) of doctors said they received faster care because of being a doctor, and a similar number (31%) described better care. However, 46% said that they often received worse care than non-doctor patients.
Self-treatment 'most of the time' was reported by 11% of doctors, 'sometimes' by 36%, and 'rarely', by 53%. Few survey participants reported seeking treatment from other doctors who were also friends – 67% said that they 'rarely/never' did this, compared with 26% who did so 'sometimes', and just 7% 'often'.
Doctors needing medical help can be in a difficult position as both doctor and anxious patient at the same time, with attitudes spanning a tendency to trivialise symptoms, delaying seeking help, and being sceptical about medicine's limitations. Also reported were worries about confidentiality, stigma or embarrassment, and a particular reluctance to seek help for mental health or dependency issues.
Doctors More Fearful and Aware of Medication Risks
Doctors' specific knowledge heavily impacted their attitude to being ill themselves, with 61% of respondents saying that being a doctor increased their fears, versus 22% saying it had no impact, and 17% reporting that it decreased their fears.
Almost all (97%) of the doctors surveyed claimed a heightened awareness of medication risks, and 69% said they would ask more questions about prescribed medication than the average non-doctor patient. Most (60%) thought doctors would be more likely to refuse treatment options than lay people. More than half (56%) said that they had at some point questioned their doctor's treatment decision, with some suggesting alternatives or seeking another opinion.
Doctors who had been hospitalised – 45% of the sample – reported feeling vulnerable and anxious, and although most (77%) felt confidence in their treatment, a substantial minority (23%) did not. Whether hospitalised themselves or not, 72% believed that due to being a doctor they were more wary of being an inpatient.
Most (79%) doctors felt that being a patient made them more empathic towards their own patients, and almost three in four (73%) said that being a patient had impacted 'a lot/some' on how they treated their own patients.