If You Have a Problem with a Doctor (No. 423)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Michelle Stimac, College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC in March 2019.|
If you’re concerned with the treatment provided by a doctor or about a doctor’s conduct, there are steps you can take. Learn how to make a complaint about a doctor.
- 1 Understand your legal rights
- 2 Deal with the problem
- 3 Common questions
- 4 Get help
Understand your legal rights
Depending on the problem, you have options
If you have concerns about a doctor, your options depend on the nature of the problem:
- If your concerns involve communication or the treatment received, talk to the doctor about the problem to see if you can work it out.
- If you are concerned with the doctor’s conduct or the treatment received, you can make a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC, the body that licenses doctors in British Columbia. We explain the steps involved shortly.
- If you think the doctor has broken a criminal law, you can contact the police or a lawyer. Our information on charging someone with a criminal offence (no. 215) explains the process.
- If a doctor has harmed you and you want compensation, you can sue the doctor for damages. Our information on medical malpractice (no. 420) describes what’s involved.
Pursuing multiple options at the same time
If you make a complaint about a doctor to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, you can also contact the police or sue the doctor for damages at the same time. In fact, if a doctor has harmed you and you want compensation, your option is to sue the doctor. The College cannot get money for you — only a court can do that.
Deal with the problem
Step 1. Talk to the doctor
Most doctors are willing to address a patient’s concerns directly. If you have a concern about a doctor that involves communication, conduct, or the treatment received, feel free to openly discuss it first with the doctor. If your concern involves a doctor in a hospital setting, you can also raise your concerns with their department head or the hospital’s medical director.
Step 2. Make a complaint about the doctor
The regulatory body for doctors in British Columbia, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC, works to ensure that patients receive quality medical care and are safe and protected when treated by doctors.
A patient or member of the public may file a complaint with the College about a doctor for:
- inadequate treatment or care of a medical condition
- inappropriate or unprofessional conduct
- concerns of an intimate or sexual nature
How to make a complaint
You can make a complaint about a doctor by:
- completing a complaint form available on the College’s website at cpsbc.ca, or
- writing a complaint letter describing what happened (see the College’s website for details of what information must be in the letter).
Send the complaint form or letter to the College by mail or fax. For contact details or more information, call toll-free 1-800-461-3008 or visit the College’s website.
There is no deadline to make a complaint, but it’s good to make one as soon as you can.
For complaints of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behaviour by a doctor, you can call the College to speak with an investigator (toll-free at 1-800-461-3008). The investigator will explain the process and help you make a written complaint. You can discuss your concerns, and decide whether to proceed. If you don’t proceed, the College may not be able to investigate or take action against the doctor.
Step 3. The College investigates the complaint
The College of Physicians and Surgeons investigates every complaint it receives. It typically reviews the patient’s medical records, and asks the doctor and any other health care providers involved to respond to the complaint. It may get more information from the person making the complaint (called the “complainant”) and other people, including experts.
A committee of the College, made up of doctors and members of the public, assesses every complaint. The committee provides a written decision on the complaint. They may (among other things):
- suggest ways the doctor can improve their conduct or practice, including by requiring them to take courses,
- warn the doctor about their conduct,
- order a review of the doctor’s practice, or
- issue a citation for a disciplinary hearing.
A disciplinary hearing is a formal process with lawyers for the College, lawyers for the doctor, and evidence provided by witnesses under oath. After the evidence is presented, a committee of the College makes a decision about the doctor’s conduct. If they penalize the doctor, they can issue a reprimand or a fine, limit the doctor’s practice, suspend the doctor, or prohibit the doctor from practising medicine.
The College cannot pay any money to the complainant or order a doctor to pay any money to the complainant. (If you want compensation from a doctor, you can sue for damages; see our information on medical malpractice, no. 420.)
Step 4. Apply for a review of the decision
If you disagree with the College’s decision on your complaint, you can apply for a review of the decision. You apply to the Health Professions Review Board. You have to deliver your application to the Board within 30 days of when you receive the College’s decision letter. If you apply after 30 days, you must also apply for an extension to file your application, explaining why you missed the deadline. You can contact the Review Board by calling toll-free 1-888-953-4986 or visiting hprb.gov.bc.ca.
Can I make a complaint on behalf of someone else?
Yes. The College of Physicians and Surgeons prefers a complaint to come from the patient or someone directly involved with the patient’s concern. But a complaint can also be made by a “representative” of the patient. There is a form that must be submitted with the complaint, authorizing the representative. The patient or their legal representative (for example, a parent or an executor named in a will) must sign the authorization form.
What if my concern is with another type of health care provider?
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC only reviews complaints about doctors in BC. There are more than 20 regulated health care professions in BC. For complaints about other health care providers, contact the regulatory body for that profession. Registered nurses, psychologists, chiropractors, therapists and other health care professions each have their own process for receiving complaints if standards are not met. The BC Health Regulators website links to the regulatory body for each type of provider.
If your concern relates to medical care received at a hospital or from a health authority, first you can complain to the place that provided the care — for example, the hospital. That body will then follow its own complaints process.
If that does not solve the problem, you can file a complaint with the Patient Care Quality Office of the health authority. Each health authority in British Columbia has such an office.
If you disagree with the decision by that office, you can ask the Patient Care Quality Review Board to review it. Each health authority has such a board. For more information, call 1-866-952-2448.
With more information
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC website explains the process to make a complaint about a doctor, and has a complaint form you can download.
- Toll-free: 1-800-461-3008
- Web: cpsbc.ca
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