How to make a medical negligence complaint – Step 1: Complaining to your Doctor

In a perfect world, we would be 100 percent satisfied with the treatment and advice sought from medical professionals every time.

But we don't live in a perfect world. Medical mistakes happen more frequently than we expect.

These mistakes range from incompetence, poor judgement decision and unprofessional behaviour. 

Vince Kartelo


Don't settle for inferior treatment. Make a complaint about it.

Complaints don't just benefit you. They also help clean up the medical industry.

It's in the community's interest to complain as it reduces the likelihood that another person will experience the same appalling treatment.

(RELATED: [Free Resource] How to make a complaint to Queensland's Office of the Health Ombudsman - step by step video guide). 

Make a complaint, so no one else has to go through your experience.

Making a complaint is an important way of weeding out and re-educating health providers who are unprofessional or incompetent.

The most common complaints from patients relate to:

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    poor treatment – misdiagnosis, wrong or inadequate treatment.
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    inadequate provision of information – for example about the diagnosis, treatment or risks.
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    impairment of the doctor due to lack of experience, drugs or alcohol.
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    inappropriate nature of the relationship (a sexual relationship for example).

A smaller number involve administrative matters like lack of access to medical records, long waiting times, rude staff and so on.

Who do you make a complaint to?

Step 1: Notify your doctor or hospital

The first step is to notify your doctor that you were unhappy with the treatment.

Start immediately by making a phone call or writing a letter to the health service provider.

If the doctor is employed by a medical practice or hospital the complaint needs to be directed to that organisation.

Before you contact the health service provider, be clear about what issues and concerns you have.

You may want to write them down. It will help you clarify your concerns, and you will not forget to raise any of them.

In your letter or phone call provide the following details:

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    Who was involved – the doctor or medical professional that was involved (if you are not contacting them directly) and the names and contact details of any witnesses.
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    What happened – briefly describe the events leading to the complaint and state relevant dates and times
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    What your concerns are – List your specific concerns (for example, problems with your medication, concerns about your treatment, lack of information about your treatment options). Start with your most important matter.
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    What your expectations are from the complaint – be clear on what you which to achieve out of the claim (for example, an apology, information about your condition, an explanation, or option for further treatment). Let them know whether you prefer a meeting, written reply or phone call. Also, include a reasonable date for which you expect a response.

Tips for telephone calls

  • Ask who the appropriate person is to speak to about your concerns. Write down the name and phone number of the person you talk to, note the date and ask if there is a reference number.
  • Ask whether they can deal with your concerns over the phone or whether you need to put them in writing.
  • You may wish to take notes of what was discussed.
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    Follow up your phone call with a letter or email detailing what was discussed in the phone call 

Tips for writing a letter or email

  • When writing your letter or email, include all information you have and what you would like to happen as an outcome of your complaint.
  • Before you send the letter or email, reread it and make sure that you have included everything you wanted. Remember to add your contact details.
  • Always keep a copy for yourself.
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    Call to check whether the medical practice or staff received your letter or email.

Don't put up with poor medical treatment

If your case is serious or your injuries severe, don’t delay in taking the next steps in your complaint.

Don’t hesitate to pursue your complaint vigorously. You and the rest of our community deserve the best medical treatment.

There are government bodies that have been put in place to regulate health provider that are unprofessional and incompetent.

Equally so, as patients in Australia, we have specific rights to safe health care that are legally protected. Breaching these rights entitles you to bring legal action against poor medical practitioners.

Don’t be shy. These avenues have been provided to you for a reason. Use them.

Next steps...

The next half of the series outlines how to make a formal complaint to the government bodies or take legal action. 

Stay tuned...