Background: Legislative measures have been identified as one effective way of changing attitude or behaviour towards health care. The aim of this study was to describe trends in patients' complaints for medical issues; to evaluate the contribution of a law regarding patients' rights, and to identify factors associated to patients' perception of a medical error.
Methods: Patients with a complaint letter for medical issues in a French university hospital were included. Trends in complaint rates were analysed. Comparisons were made between a first (1998-2000) and a second (2001-2004) time period, before and after the diffusion of the law, and according to the perception of a medical error.
Results: Complaints for medical issues increased from 1998 to 2004. Of 164 complaints analysed, 66% were motivated by the perception of a medical error (47% during the first time period vs. 73% during the second time period; p = 0.001). Error or delay in diagnosis/treatment and surgical/medical complication were the main reasons for complaints. Surgical departments had the higher number of complaints. Second time period, substandard care, disability, and adverse effect of a health product were independently associated with the perception of a medical error, positively for the formers, and negatively for the latter.
Conclusion: This study revealed an increase with time in the number of complaints for medical issues in a university hospital, as well as an increase in the perception of a medical error after the passing of a law regarding patients' rights in France.