A "complaint" in everyday usage is an expression of displeasure or grievance. We know that patients often do that. In the civil law, a "complaint" is the formal pleading that starts the lawsuit in which the plaintiff sets out facts and makes a claim for damages.
If you handle the informal complaints well, you may be able to fend off any formal legal complaints. Try to see patient dissatisfaction as a risk management opportunity.
Studies show that patient complaints correlate positively with malpractice risk. A study at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine evaluated 645 doctors over 6 years. The researchers found a strong link between doctors with a high number of patient complaints and doctors with a high number of risk management events.
The unsolicited complaints cited problems with communication, humaneness, clinical care, billing, access, and availability. The risk management events included adverse events with potential liability and actual lawsuits.
Patients sometimes sue because they're angry. If they are upset with you and you don't listen to their complaints, they can find a plaintiff's attorney who will listen. Plaintiff's attorneys report that the patients/potential plaintiffs often just want to be heard.
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Cite this: Lee J. Johnson. Malpractice Dangers in Patient Complaints - Medscape - Jul 19, 2010.