Dealing with a Patient Complaint

No doctor wants to deal with a patient complaint. It can be challenging and stressful experience – so much that in one study it was found that over 95% of medical practitioners experience stress after receiving a complaint. (reference in footnote please: Bismark, M., Spittal, M., Studdert, D., (2013) Identification of doctors at risk of recurrent complaints: a national study of  healthcare complaints in Australia. BMJ Qual Saf 2013;22:10 879- 880 doi:10.1136/bmjqs-2013-002340)

As medical indemnity insurance providers in Australia, Tego is highly experienced in dealing with and protecting our medical practices and medical practitioners against patient complaints. When a formal complaint is received by a regulatory authority, the first step is to contact your medical indemnity insurer for advice and support. It is paramount to address patient complaints early, and seek ways of minimising the impact of the complaint. This process will benefit you, your staff and your patients.

What to do when you receive a direct patient complaint

Here are a few tips to address and triage patient complaints:

  • If you receive a formal complaint via a regulatory authority (e.g. Medical Board, AHPRA, patient’s lawyer) you should contact your medical indemnity insurer as soon as possible. Review and gather your medical notes, reports, phone call.
  • If the complaint is informal, where possible (and appropriate) make personal contact by phone when you receive the complaint to ensure you understand the nature of the complaint and what the patient wants in making the complaint. 
  • Deal promptly with the complaint.
  • If there is to be a delay in responding, let the patient know and give a time frame.
  • Show empathy to the patient even if you do not accept the basis of the complaint.
  • Let the patient know what has been done to improve systems and processes at your practice as a result of their complaint.

Your complaints handling protocol

Medical indemnity insurance for medical practitioners and medical malpractice indemnity insurance typically include cover for dealing with and responding to complaints. A 24/7 medico-legal service is usually available to assist, particularly for urgent matters that may occur out of hours. 

The best way for dealing with direct patient complaints is to ensure your practice have appropriate protocols and procedures. Here are some tips:

  • Designate a staff member as the single point of contact for all complaints. 
  • Treat all complaints seriously. Do not ignore them. 
  • If the complaint is about your clinical care, handle it yourself. If it is about your practice or administrative issues, let your practice manager handle it.
  • Deal with all complaints quickly.
  • Encourage all complaints to be in writing.
  • If you receive a complaint in writing, make initial contact by phone to acknowledge receipt.

Tego to the Rescue

Tego offers medical indemnity insurance for medical practitioners. We have a profound understanding of the Australian medical profession and the ever-changing healthcare industry. It’s this expertise that allows us to provide leading cover with more choice, innovation and greater flexibility. Contact us to find out more.

This publication is general in nature and is not comprehensive or constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal, medical or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Tego Insurance Pty Ltd is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss su­ffered in connection with the use of this information.