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