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Med J Aust. 1999 Jun 21;170(12):598-602.

Patients' complaints about medical practice.

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School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Sydney.



To survey complainants' experience and the outcome of lodging a complaint about medical treatment.


Random sample survey. A 32-item questionnaire was sent to 500 complainants by the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), and responses were returned reply-paid to the university.


290 people with complaints finalised by the HCCC between February 1996 and August 1997.


Profile of complainants and doctor involved; type and place of incident; complainants' emotions at the time of the incident and at the conclusion of the complaints process; outcome of complaint, and satisfaction with outcome and intention to take further action.


After excluding non-medical complaints, 290 of 314 questionnaires returned were analysed, giving a response rate of 63% (314/500): 64% of complaints were about clinical care, and the remainder related to rudeness or poor communication (22%), and unethical or improper behaviour (14%); 70% of complainants were women, and 44% of complaints were on behalf of another person; Complainants had a high socioeconomic status, and 60% were currently in paid employment; More than half the incidents occurred in doctors' consulting rooms; 87% of the doctors involved were men, and over half were general practitioners. 37% of complaints were dismissed; 21% of complainants did not know the outcome of their complaint, and 40% believed that the doctor had been disciplined. Most complainants were dissatisfied with the outcome; a quarter stated that they would sue, but 70% would do nothing further. All but two complainants would never consult the doctor involved again.


Most of the respondents were not satisfied with either the process or the outcome. Typically they wanted stronger measures taken. Only a few wanted compensation; more wanted acknowledgement of harm done; and most wanted the doctor punished.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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