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Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 1995 Mar;21(3):133-42.

Ombudsmen, patient complaints, and total quality management: an examination of fit.

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  • 1Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg, School of Public Affairs, USA.



In response to mounting health care costs in the United States and Canada, there is considerable national discussion of health care quality, including the importance of assessing and monitoring patient satisfaction and of responding to complaints. Many physicians and health care administrators cringe at the mention of using patient complaints and satisfaction levels as quality measures; others perceive the need to develop multiple source indicators of patient care. At the same time, leaders are seeking programs and methods that contribute to the continuous improvement of all aspects of health care organizations.


The use of patient ombudsmen and patient complaints in quality management programs is reviewed and the relation between the two functions--ombudsmen/complaint handling and total quality management--is discussed. Purposes, objectives, problem-solving processes, program operations, data use, and the outcomes of ombudsmen efforts are reviewed. Since ombudsmen programs value patient feedback, empower customers, and help contribute to the diagnosis of organizational areas for improvement, they are consistent with the intent and workings of quality teams. The activities of ombudsmen can contribute to the broader effort to manage the whole organization toward the continuous improvement of quality.

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