What patients need to know
The Health Professions Act sets out a framework for how the College manages complaints. It is a formal process with potentially serious consequences for a physician. The College is committed to a process that is transparent, objective, impartial and fair to all those involved. To that end, the College is legally obliged to share all written correspondence received from the public regarding a physician's practice with the physician.
Patients may have a number of questions before filing a complaint. They are advised to review the sections below for some helpful information about the process and the College’s role.
Reasons for complaints
Generally, a patient or member of the public may file a complaint for any of the following reasons:
- inadequate treatment or care of a medical condition
- inappropriate or unprofessional conduct
- concerns of an intimate or sexual nature
In general, most physicians are willing to address a patient’s concerns directly. Patients who have a concern about their physician, which involves communication, conduct, or the treatment they have received, should feel free to openly discuss these issues with their physician. If the conversation is unsuccessful or the patient feels unsafe raising the issue or is unable to for other reasons, they may choose to file a complaint with the College for further investigation.
For more information on specific concerns, please refer to the following professional standards and guidelines:
Role of the College
The College’s mandate is to ensure that patients receive quality medical care, and that they are safe and protected when they are treated by licensed physicians. By following the requirements of the Health Professions Act, the College has established procedures for:
- managing public complaints and concerns
- adjudicating complaints about care provided by physicians registered with the College
- adjudicating complaints about the conduct of physicians registered with the College
The College has a range of options available in resolving complaints. These include (but are not limited to):
- providing remedial advice through written correspondence
- requiring a mandatory interview with College staff
- placing limits and conditions on a physician’s practice
- removing a physician from practice
The goal of the complaints process is to take appropriate action necessary to ensure that patient safety is not being compromised in any way.
In order to fulfill its regulatory mandate, the College is authorized through legislation to access patient records in order to adjudicate complaints or to evaluate the quality of care provided by a College registrant. In the absence of specific direction to the contrary, it is the College’s position that consent to access patients’ personal records is implied when the patient initiates a complaint and asks the College to adjudicate the matter.
What the College cannot do
- provide any financial compensation to patients
- provide diagnoses or treatment recommendations, or direct the specifics of patient care
- compel a physician to treat or prescribe in a particular manner
- deal with concerns or complaints about hospitals, or other health care providers such as nurses, pharmacists, dentists, optometrists, psychologists, chiropractors, naturopaths, or any other health professional who is not a registered physician or surgeon
- contact the police on behalf of a patient where illegal activities are suspected without the patient’s specific consent
- adjudicate complaints without offering the physician(s) the opportunity to respond
How to file a complaint
Patients who are filing a complaint on their own behalf must complete and submit a Complaint Form by mail, fax or email. Designates who are filing a complaint on behalf a patient must submit both a completed Complaint Form and Authorization for Representation form.
A written letter is also acceptable with the following information:
- full name
- date of birth
- telephone number (day and evening)
- the full name and address of the physician(s) involved
- a description of the incident in as much detail as possible
- the date of the incident
- complainant signature
Note: If someone is representing a patient in regards to a complaint, the written letter must also include:
- full name
- contact information
- relationship to the patient
- consent to access/receive the patient’s medical information
There is no specific timeframe within which to file a complaint. However, it assists in the investigation process if a complaint is filed shortly after the alleged incident.
How a complaint is handled
The process of reviewing and adjudicating complaints about physicians is defined by the Health Professions Act, the Regulations and the Bylaws made under that Act. Handling a patient complaint consists of several steps:
- The College receives a patient complaint letter/form
- The College will send the patient a letter to confirm receipt
- The College will contact the physician(s) involved in the complaint
- The College will send a copy of the patient’s complaint to the physician(s), and ask the physician(s) to respond
- The College may contact other physicians who have been involved in the patient’s care to obtain additional relevant information
- Once received, the College will provide the patient with a copy of the response obtained from the physicians involved in his/her care, and an opportunity to respond
- The College may request copies of the patient’s medical records from the treating physician, hospital or health-care facility
- The College compiles all documents and information into a complete file
How a complaint is reviewed
Once the College has received all the relevant information from the patient, the physician(s) involved, the hospital(s), and/or other physicians, the complete file will be reviewed by one of the College's staff physicians who summarize the complaint and provide that summary, along with all relevant documents, to the College’s Inquiry Committee.
The Inquiry Committee includes both physician and public members of the College's Board and other appointed physicians or non-physicians with specific areas of expertise. The committee is divided into different panels as a way of reviewing complaints more efficiently. The committee members review and discuss all of the information pertinent to the complaint. In some circumstances, they may also choose to conduct interviews with the physician(s) involved in the patient’s care, as well as seek input from independent experts.
The review process requires time; however, the College tries to resolve complaints within six to eight months. As set out in the Health Professions Act, complaints which are very unlikely to lead to limits or conditions on a physician’s practice may be responded to by one of the College’s staff physicians directly. A summary of the response and all pertinent documentation are submitted to the Inquiry Committee for review and confirmation.
What to expect after an investigation
Upon completion of the investigation, the patient (and the physician(s) involved) will receive a written explanation of the College's review and opinion in response to the complaint. This explanation will include a summary of the physician's response, a description of other information considered, and an opinion, along with reasons for that opinion.
If the College is critical of the physician, the College may:
- inform the physician why there was criticism and/or where s/he erred
- provide advice to the physician on how to improve his/her conduct or practice; including the requirement to take educational courses
- request that the physician attend the College for an interview
- provide guidance and reminders to all physicians on expected standards of care through communication in its official publications
- warn the physician that, if similar conduct occurs again, more serious disciplinary action may be considered
- order a general review of the physician’s practice
- issue a citation for a hearing by the Disciplinary Committee if remediation is not appropriate or sufficient to address the concerns
Whether or not the College is critical, all complaints about physicians remain in the physician's file at the College.
How to appeal a decision
Under the Health Professions Act, the provincial government has established the Health Professions Review Board (HPRB). The HPRB is an independent tribunal tasked with reviewing the thoroughness of the investigation and the reasonableness of the decision.
Patients who are dissatisfied with the College’s review and adjudication of their complaint have the right to submit the matter to the HPRB for further evaluation and review of the College’s action and conclusions within 30 days of receipt of the College's adjudication letter.
Health Professions Review Board
Suite 900, 747 Fort Street
Victoria BC V8W 2E9
Toll-free telephone number (within BC): 1-888-953-4986
PO Box 9429 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9V1