■ Duties and responsibilities:

Expectations of physicians in practice

Media requests: Points to consider if you are asked for an interview

Woman behind a microphone

3 minutes

Published: February 2024

The information in this article was correct at the time of publishing

It is common for journalists to reach out to physicians for commentary on various healthcare issues. Before you decide to speak to the media, be aware that there are some situations where speaking publicly can create medico-legal risks.

The medico-legal risks of speaking to the media depend on your specific situation. If you receive an interview request related to your professional medical work and are unsure how to respond, contact us for advice.

If you are asked to speak about a medico-legal issue that involves you

If you are asked to comment about a medico-legal issue you are involved in, you should decline the request.

If the patient is already speaking publicly about care you provided, and you feel there are inaccuracies in what the patient is saying, it is still best to respond to the media by saying you cannot comment due to privacy concerns. Trying to “set the record straight” by commenting publicly will likely lead to more problems and possibly create a privacy breach.

In both of these situations, contact your CMPA-assigned legal counsel. If you have not yet been assigned to counsel, contact us for advice.

If you are asked to speak about a patient

As a rule, you cannot share patient information without consent. This rule applies even if the patient is speaking publicly about their health. The fact that the patient has decided to share their personal health information is not permission for you to discuss that patient’s information.

There may be situations where a patient has explicitly given you consent to discuss their personal health information. This can arise when a patient is asking you to advocate on their behalf. However, speaking publicly about the need for a specific treatment or better access to care might put you in a difficult position in relation to hospital or clinic administrators, or your colleagues. You also run the risk of raising an issue the patient has not, in fact, given you consent to speak about.

If you are asked to speak about a general public health issue

There is a long tradition of physicians advocating on healthcare issues, such as the need for more funding or the better allocation of resources. Both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada recognize health advocacy as a key competency and responsibility of physicians. Colleges and other medical organizations have also developed policies, guidelines, and statements that define the role of physicians in advocacy. More information can be found in Advocacy for change: An important role to undertake with care.

Be aware of any media relations policies or procedures in your hospital or institution, and follow appropriate channels for obtaining approval from your hospital or institution administration in advance of speaking publicly. If your hospital or institution has a communications department, you may wish to direct the journalist to that department.

Clearly distinguish when your comments are made in a personal capacity or on behalf of your hospital or institution, and be sure to seek permission from your hospital or institution before commenting on their behalf.

Additional reading

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.