Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~ Bill Gates
For most patients, an appointment with a naturopathic doctor is a positive experience. However, sometimes things go amiss and your actions or treatment do not meet expectations so the patient files a complaint with the College. Alternatively, information about an ND’s behavior or practice may come to our attention from other sources such as the media, other health professionals, or a criminal investigation. The challenge is to handle these situations professionally, in line with the regulations and standards governing the profession and, ultimately, in the best interest of your patients.
This post provides College Members with practical tips about responding to a complaint.
All complaints are investigated
One of the things we sometimes hear from Members when they have been notified of a complaint, is that it has no merit and shouldn’t be investigated. Under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) must investigate all complaints and respond to the complainant’s concerns. The law does permit the ICRC to decline investigating a complaint it considers to be frivolous and vexatious. However, the bar to determine that a complaint is frivolous and vexatious is very high, as a matter of public interest.
Understand the process
Responding to a complaint will take time and requires a commitment to yourself as a professional. It is important to keep your perspective, be open and fulsome in your responses to the College, and remain calm and patient. To help you respond, it can be useful to understand the complaints process, which can be lengthy, and the outcomes available to the ICRC. This information is posted on the College’s website and summarized in the Complaints infographic. When you review those materials, you will see that the College will remain fair and neutral, it will ask for the facts and perspectives of everyone involved, on every element of the complaint. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your professionalism by responding to the complaint in an honest, timely, and cooperative way.
Our Complaints staff can explain the process in detail, however, they cannot express opinions about the merits of a case or what the likely outcome will be. If you would like to know whether your actions may constitute professional misconduct, review the Professional Misconduct Regulation. If you need legal advice, you may choose to contact a lawyer.
Provide patient records to the College
Under the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004, health information custodians may provide personal health information to the College without the patient’s consent. Refer to section 43 of PHIPA if you are concerned about releasing patients’ health information to the College.
Cooperate with investigators
In some cases, the ICRC may appoint a formal investigator to collect more information and interview the parties involved. Investigators are independent professionals retained by the College. Their role does not include educating Members about College regulations and standards.
Before collecting information or conducting interviews, a College-appointed investigator will present you with an appointment letter signed by the College’s Registrar & CEO. Once you are notified of the investigation, you are required under the RHPA to fully cooperate with the investigator. Not doing so may constitute professional misconduct.
Refrain from contacting the complainant
If you wish to reply to the complaint and share your side of the story, we recommend you direct all your communications to the College. We will ensure that the complainant receives a copy of your response and has an opportunity to comment on it.
If the complainant requests a copy of their patient records, follow your usual process and disclose copies of any relevant correspondence with the patient to the ICRC.
If the complainant is your patient and they want to continue treatment, consider whether your professional objectivity may be compromised by the complaint. If the answer is yes, notify the patient and provide them with an opportunity to arrange for alternate services before discontinuing their treatment.
Prepare your response to the College
When preparing your written response, consider the following:
Responding to a complaint is your opportunity to acknowledge the incident, share your perception of the concerns raised, and learn from it. The College does not expect you to be perfect and make no mistakes. We do, however, encourage you to adhere to the standards and guidelines of the profession and to remedy any issues in your practice that contravene them.
We would be naïve if we were to suggest that the process is anything but a point of concern and stress for Members and complainants. We know that and we do all that we can to reduce the anxiety a complaint may cause. We have an Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee with considerable experience and expertise that prides itself on being fair and objective. Overwhelmingly, Members who have been the subject of a complaint find, at the end of the process, that Mr. Gates was right simply because they have learned a great deal about themselves, their practice and patients generally.