Objective: To describe complaints by patients and compare rates of complaint in demographic subgroups of patients and hospital departments.
Design and setting: Retrospective analysis of complaints made by patients attending 67 hospitals (metropolitan, 25; rural, 42) in Victoria, and lodged with the Victorian Health Complaint Information Program (January 1997 - December 2001).
Main outcome measures: Demographic characteristics of patients lodging complaints and the hospital department involved; nature and outcome of complaints.
Results: From a total of over 13 million patients presenting to hospital during the study period, 19 156 patients or their representatives (mostly their parents, children or spouses) lodged 26 785 "issues" of complaint (overall complaint rate, 1.42 complaints/1000 patients). Significantly more complaints (P < 0.001) were lodged by (or on behalf of) female patients (complaint rate ratio, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.2-1.3), public patients (rate ratio, 2.1; 95% CI, 2.0-2.2) and Australian-born patients (rate ratio, 8.9; 95% CI, 8.3-9.6). The complaint rate for general wards was 6.2/1000 patients (95% CI, 6.1-6.3). Intensive care units had a similar rate of 5.9/1000 (95% CI, 5.4-6.5), but aged-care departments had a significantly higher rate of 45.2/1000 (95% CI, 39.5-51.7), while emergency departments (1.9/1000; 95% CI, 1.8-2.0), operating theatres (1.0/1000; 95% CI, 1.0-1.1), day-procedure units (0.5/1000; 95% CI, 0.5-0.6) and outpatient departments (0.4/1000; 95% CI, 0.4-0.4) had significantly lower rates. Complaints relating to communication (poor attention, discourtesy, rudeness), access to healthcare (no/inadequate service, treatment delays) and treatment (inadequate treatment and nursing care) accounted for 29.2%, 28.5% and 22.5% of complaints, respectively. Most (84.5%) complaints were resolved. Apologies or explanations resolved 27.8% and 27.5% of complaints, respectively.
Conclusion: Interventions to decrease the number of complaints in the areas of communication and access to healthcare need to be implemented. The active use of complaint data for quality-improvement activities is recommended.