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Health service providers

Managing a complaint

Here are some steps health service providers can take to manage complaints quickly and prevent them escalating.

Have a complaint process

  • You, or the organisation you work for, should have a process to receive, investigate and attempt to resolve complaints.
  • Explain to the consumer how you will manage their complaint. Responding appropriately can restore trust and prevent a minor grievance from escalating.
  • If you feel you can’t—or it’s not suitable to—manage the complaint, supply the contact details of a person who can (for example, a more senior or experienced staff member or a patient liaison officer).
  • Outline the complaint management process and how the complaint will be actioned.
  • Give a clear timeframe in which the complaint will be addressed.
  • Remember, everyone has the right to make a complaint free from harassment or intimidation.

Listen

  • Invite the person to talk face-to-face – encourage them to bring along a support person or advocate if they wish.
  • Listen carefully and respond sensitively.
  • Most consumers greatly value the opportunity to talk about what happened and present their view.

Clarify

  • Clarify with the consumer the issues they are concerned about.
  • Find out what could resolve their concerns.
  • Consider the use of an interpreter.

Understand

  • Acknowledge the consumer’s feelings, concerns and experience, even though you might disagree. Acknowledge any distress the consumer may be feeling.
  • Many complaints arise from miscommunication or misunderstood communication. Acknowledge this without dismissing the consumer’s point of view.
  • Try to understand the situation from the consumer’s perspective.

Explain

  • An open discussion and an explanation of what happened will often resolve concerns.
  • Avoid technical language, jargon and clichés, and explain medical terms.
  • Try not to be defensive.

Reassure

  • Consumers are often worried that if they complain, there will be a negative impact on their future care. Reassure them that this won’t be the case.
  • Offer reassurance the complaint will be kept confidential.

Timeliness

  • Respond to the complaint as soon as possible, even if it is just to explain the process and timeframe.
  • Stick to the timeframe given.
  • Keep the complainant informed.
  • Give the reasons for any delay.

Finalise

  • Provide a full response so the consumer can see their complaint has been taken seriously.
  • Explain the steps you took.
  • Acknowledge areas of disagreement, or varying accounts without dismissing the consumer’s view.
  • Outline what happened, any error that occurred, how it happened and any policy or procedure changes you are making to prevent it happening again.
  • Be sympathetic. Apologise if appropriate.

If you and the complainant are unable to resolve the concerns, we are here to help. Contact the Office of the Health Ombudsman for assistance.