When I started blogging, I got excited, and made far too much of a commitment. So now I have some articles that I am proud of stuck on a blog that I no longer update, and is becoming a bit of a spam magnet. So I am taking the opportunity to edit them up an republish them here. I ask the indulgence of those who have already read this.
When doctors act inappropriately, it is alright to complain.
A friend of mine visited a doctor, when she was feeling crook with a cold and had “pinched something” in her back. She was so sick, she agreed to see a new doctor to get a quick appointement. The doctor seemed really put out about her symptoms, and suggested that she might have depression, as what she was saying made no sense to him. My friend works as a mental health professional, and she was upset by the doctors snap assessment, and appalled that mental health could be treated so flippantly. She walked out of the appointment feeling angry, dissatisfied and frustrated.
Luckily, my friend is a clever woman, and decided that the doctor was useless. However, if the situation was different, she may have been very upset, or even endangered. If she had have been depressed, she could have reacted badly to being ignored. She felt the communication problem may have been cultural. If you have a bad experience with a doctor, it often comes down to communication and culture in some way. But there are ways to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else.
When should you consider a formal complaint?
If you simply don’t like a doctor, you have the right to visit another practitioner. Complaining is pointless. You definitely have permission to not like a doctor.
However, if you think that the doctor may have done something unprofessional or inappropriate, then you should consider complaining. It is hard to say what is appropriate, but if you are made to feel embarrassed, afraid or ashamed, then it is worth complaining. Examples would be a doctor using their position to do something unexpected, or poorly explained. These are situations where you might consider complaining.
There are lots of useful ways to make complaints about the medical system, that can help diffuse the situation quickly.
Could the doctor have done something illegal?
Occasionally doctors can act like any other unscrupulous person and rip you off, or even assault you. If you think a doctor, medical practice or hospital has broken the law, you should make a complaint to the police. Due to confidentiality concerns, most other professional bodies do not investigate fraud or assault well enough to rule out a legal problem.
Complain to the doctor’s employer
All doctors are employed by somebody, although it may be themselves. If you had bad service at a restaurant, you might complain to the restaurant owner. Likewise, if you feel someone was rude to you, for example, you could complain to the clinic manager. This method is good for dealing with minor problems, particularly where the doctor was not the only staff member involved.
If you have a complaint about something that happened in a hospital, complaining to the hospital is a good first step. Hospitals often have a patient liaison officer to deal with complaints. They will listen to what happened, investigate, and even organize mediation.
Complain to the Medical Board
Good doctors want “bad” doctors to be sorted out. Often, problems like poor communication, and cultural problems can be sorted out with education and even supervision. In most states and territories across the world, there is a public board that manages medical registration. Their role is to make sure doctors are qualified and have the necessary experience to see patients. They can also regulate what areas doctors are allowed to work in. For example, newly qualified doctors are usually supervised by more experienced doctors, and the board makes sure this happens.
The Medical Practitioners Board (named slightly differently across the world) is staffed by doctors and lawyers who understand what is reasonable in a consultation, and what is unreasonable. They will investigate any complaints and decide what consequences the doctor will experience. Sometimes they go through mediation, or further education. If the complaint is serious and the doctor has acted very poorly, then they may have their registration suspended, restricted or cancelled.
Your medical board can be found by doing an online search, or looking in the government section of your phonebook. The Medical Practitioner’s Board of Victoria covers my registration in Melbourne, Australia.
What about using lawyers to make complaints?
Television legal shows, and prominent ads for personal injury lawyers are starting to make us think of lawyers when making complaints. I think this is a weird way to go. A wronged patient may get money, but they are unlikely to understand what happened and what went wrong. Furthermore, doctors become increasingly cautious with patients who have sued before, making future health care difficult.
If you are keen on getting a lawyer to help you make a complaint, it is useful to exercise some of the other methods of complaint first. They may be quicker, and solve the problem more effectively. Furthermore, no one stands to gain financially, so you will hopefully get a bit fairer treatment. If you don’t reach a solution, then you can try legal avenues later. And if you do reach a conclusion, it is much easier to get a settlement in court if the doctor has already been judged in the wrong.