The immediate and long-term impact on New Zealand doctors who receive patient complaints

N Z Med J. 2004 Jul 23;117(1198):U972.


Aim: To analyse the impact of receiving a medical complaint on doctors in New Zealand.

Methods: A questionnaire was sent to New Zealand doctors--randomly selected to include vocationally registered general practitioners, vocationally registered hospital-based specialists, and general registrants.

Results: 221 doctors (who had received a medical complaint) completed the questionnaire. They indicated that, in the immediate period after receiving a complaint, they experienced emotions including anger, depression, shame, guilt, and reduced enjoyment of the practice of medicine. Around one in three doctors reported reduced trust and sense of goodwill towards patients (other than the complainant), and reduction in tolerance of uncertainty and of confidence in clinical practice. In the long-term, the impact of a complaint softened--but feelings of persisting anger, reduction in trust of patients, and of reduced feelings of goodwill toward patients was reported. No differences were found between doctors practising in different vocational groups.

Conclusions: This study indicates that receiving a medical complaint has a significant negative impact on the doctor, and on important components of the doctor-patient relationship. It suggests that in the first few days and weeks after receiving a complaint, a doctor may need emotional and practising support. This study finds no evidence that the receipt of a complaint improves the delivery of patient care.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Humans
  • Malpractice*
  • New Zealand
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Professional Practice / standards
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Self Concept
  • Surveys and Questionnaires