With ever increasing pressure on health practitioners to provide efficient and effective healthcare, it is not surprising that we get hundreds of calls every year from doctors, midwives and health practices who have received a complaint about a healthcare service they have provided.

No matter how upsetting, distasteful or frivolous the complaint may be, the most important step is notifying the circumstances of the complaint to MIGA’s medico-legal team so we can assist you formulate the best response.

Most health practitioners and providers understand the importance of calling us when a complaint has been made to a Complaints Commissioner or AHPRA, given the potential ramifications for a practitioner’s registration. However even a verbal or written complaint made to you or your medical practice should not be overlooked or dismissed.

If a patient has taken the time to voice their concerns, regardless of how unfounded or inaccurate those concerns may be, it is important that consideration is given to a measured and appropriate response.

We assist our members on a daily basis with complaints both minor and complex in nature and we frequently experience first-hand how beneficial a timely and well-considered response is for both the practitioner and patient. It has the potential to renew the patient’s trust or assist in bringing the relationship to an end on mutually satisfactory terms. It can avoid escalation of the complaint to a regulator or even a claim being pursued.

Some tips to remember:

1. When you receive a complaint, don’t sweep it under the carpet 
Pick up the phone and call our team to seek advice. We are always here to help and our members frequently report feeling better about their course of action having had the opportunity to discuss the complaint with an independent person in a professional and confidential setting.

2. Talk to a trusted colleague  
It is easy to become clouded by emotion when we receive a negative communication, so talking it through with a colleague who might have faced similar patient interactions could be very valuable support and insightful to your handling of the complaint.

3. Let the patient know that the complaint has been received 
If you anticipate the response taking more than 7 days, let the patient know their complaint has been received and provide a reasonable timeframe for providing a response. Many complaints will escalate if the patient feels they have been ignored.

4. The complaint doesn’t directly involve you 
If the complaint involves practice staff, you and/or the practice manager will need to investigate the basis of the complaint with those who were directly involved. It might ultimately be that advice needs to be sought from another party’s insurer. If in doubt contact MIGA to discuss the circumstances of the complaint. We can help.

5. The complaint has been made by a patient’s family member or friend 
You cannot release any health information to a third party in the absence of the patient’s consent, therefore you will need to confirm that the patient consents to the release of any information to the complainant. If the complainant is a substitute decision-maker and has authority to make health care decisions for the patient, then health information can be released in those circumstances.

6. The complaint is completely baseless, inaccurate and offensive 
Don’t provide an emotive or defensive response. The best responses are those which chronologically set out the facts and provide an explanation addressing each component of the complaint. What makes a good response great, is one which strikes the balance between clearly addressing the complaint while appropriately acknowledging the patient’s concerns. Often it is important to demonstrate insight. Letting the patient know their concerns have been ‘heard’ is essential to diffusing a difficult patient interaction.

7. You are losing sleep over the complaint 
If you are finding that the complaint has impacted your mental and emotional well-being you should talk to your GP. Being on the receiving end of a complaint can evoke many varied emotions and can be incredibly stressful so seeking support when needed should be made a priority.

The following support services are available to practitioners:

Doctors Health advisory and referral services: www.drs4drs.com.au
Nurse & Midwife support 1800 667 877

General support services:

    • See your GP
    • Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
    • Headspace 1800 650 890
    • Lifeline 13 11 14

MIGA has a number of resources available to help doctors better manage their health, including a doctor’s health assessment and health e-book and details concerning our practitioner support service:

Finally, please remember if a patient interaction is concerning you it is worth asking for assistance.  It is likely we have dealt with it before and we’ll be well-placed to assist you.  We are only a phone call away!

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