Making a Complaint Against Your Doctor (Script 423)
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If you have a complaint about your doctor, you have 4 options:
- Talk to the doctor about the problem to see if you can work it out. If talking doesn’t work, or if the problem is too serious, consider the next 3 options.
- Complain to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC. Under the Health Professions Act, the College licenses all BC doctors, enforces standards for the practice of medicine, and handles complaints against doctors. Even if you complain to the College, you can still take the other actions described in items 3 and 4 below. In fact, if a doctor has harmed you and you want compensation, you have to sue (item 4) because the College cannot get money for you—only a court can do that.
- Consult a lawyer or the police if you think the doctor has broken a criminal law.
- Sue for medical malpractice—see a lawyer for advice about suing the doctor for damages—check script 420, called “Medical Malpractice”.
- 1 Talk to the doctor
- 2 Complain to the College
- 3 Sexual misconduct complaints
- 4 What does the College do when it receives a complaint?
- 5 What the College can do about a complaint
- 6 What the College cannot do about a complaint
- 7 Applying for a review of a College decision
- 8 Suing at the same time as complaining to the College
Talk to the doctor
Most doctors will talk with a patient who has a problem with them. If you have a problem with your doctor that involves communication, conduct, or the treatment you received, discuss it first with your doctor. If you have a complaint about a doctor while you’re in the hospital, you can also go to the head of the division or the hospital’s medical director, who will follow the hospital’s complaints process. If talking doesn’t work, you have the other 3 options listed above and described next.
Complain to the College
The College reviews complaints against doctors in BC, but not against other healthcare providers, such as nurses and psychologists. There is no deadline to file a complaint, but it’s good to file as soon as you can. You can file most complaints by mail or fax (for sexual misconduct complaints, the next section explains a different process).
- Review this script and the College website on filing a complaint.
- Complete and submit a complaint form on the College website.
- You can also send a complaint letter to the College with the following information:
- your name, date of birth, address, and phone number so that the College can contact you.
- the name and address of your doctor.
- the facts of what happened to you.
- your permission to send a copy of your complaint to the doctor for their response.
- Mail or fax your complaint form or letter to:
- Complaints Department
- College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC
- 300 – 669 Howe Street
- Vancouver BC V6C 0B4
- Fax: 604.733.3503
The College does not accept complaints by email or phone. For more information, call the College at 604.733.7758 in Vancouver and 1.800.461.3008 elsewhere in BC. Or check its website.
Sexual misconduct complaints
For complaints of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behaviour by a doctor, call the College to speak with an investigator at 604.733.7758 in Vancouver and 1.800.461.3008 elsewhere in BC. The investigator will explain the process and help you file 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.
What does the College do when it receives a complaint?
The College investigates every complaint it receives. It may get more information from the person making the complaint and other people, including experts. It may also get relevant medical records. The College will also ask the doctor to respond to the complaint. The College's Inquiry Committee, made up of doctors and members of the public, assesses every complaint.
What the College can do about a complaint
College staff investigate most complaints by reviewing the patient’s medical records and getting responses from the doctor and any other healthcare providers involved. The College may suggest a doctor change parts of their practice and take training and education in a specific area.
The College’s Inquiry Committee can formally reprimand a doctor who has not:
- met current standards of care, or
- followed the ethical principles in the Canadian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics, or
- followed any of the College’s bylaws or standards.
If the Inquiry Committee decides that discipline is needed, the doctor can agree to the discipline as part of alternate dispute resolution. Otherwise, the evidence would be tested at a Discipline Committee hearing.
The College can limit a doctor’s medical practice or prohibit a doctor from practicing medicine if there is significant evidence of a doctor’s lack of judgment, unprofessional behaviour, lack of current skill or knowledge, or impaired fitness to practice.
The College can limit a doctor’s medical practice. It can also prohibit a doctor from practicing medicine. But the College would take these actions only if it found (during a formal disciplinary process) significant evidence of a doctor’s lack of judgment, unprofessional behaviour, lack of current skill or knowledge, or impaired fitness to practice. The evidence would be tested at a Discipline Committee Hearing—unless the doctor agreed to the discipline as part of alternate dispute resolution.
What the College cannot do about a complaint
The College cannot:
- investigate complaints about hospitals or other healthcare providers—see the section below on complaints about the quality of healthcare.
- provide diagnoses or treatment recommendations, or prescribe specific patient care (it can’t write prescriptions or tell doctors what tests to order).
- recommend any doctors.
- pay any money or order a doctor to pay any money to complainants. If you want compensation from a doctor, see a lawyer about suing for damages. And check script 420, called “Medical Malpractice”.
- contact the police for a complainant if illegal activities are involved—unless the complainant consents to this.
- decide on a complaint without first giving the doctor a chance to respond.
College website information—the College website explains the role of the College, reasons for complaints, standards and guidelines in several areas, and the complaint process. It also has the complaint form.
Applying for a review of a College decision
If you disagree with the College’s decision on your complaint, you can apply to the Health Professions Review Board to review the decision. 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, then you must also apply for an extension to file your application, explaining why you missed the deadline. The Review Board is at 250.953.4956 and toll-free elsewhere in BC at 1.888.953.4986.
Suing at the same time as complaining to the College
If a doctor has harmed you and you want compensation, you have to sue the doctor for medical malpractice because the College cannot get money for you—only a court can do that. You can sue at the same time as you complain to the College. Script 420, called “Medical Malpractice” explains how to sue for medical malpractice.
Complaints about the quality of healthcare—for problems with the quality of healthcare you received from a health authority, first you can complain to the place that gave you the service, for example, a hospital (which 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 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.
For complaints about other healthcare providers, contact the regulatory body for that profession. For example, the College of Registered Nurses of BC licenses nurses. The Emergency Medical Assistant Licensing Board licenses paramedics.
[updated June 2018]
The above was last edited by John Blois.
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