Purpose: This paper aims to make use of patient complaints as a valuable source of information to enable improvements to the quality of health service delivery.
Design/methodology/approach: Thematic analysis was used to analyse records of de-identified patient complaints made about medical or nursing staff or medical or nursing services between January 2006 and May 2008 in the Mount Isa Health Service District.
Findings: Three main themes were identified. These themes were labelled: "communication", "wait times" and "clinical". The latter related to specific concerns about the care provided to the patient or their relative. There were 101 complaints analysed. The majority (60 per cent) of complaints related to communication. Wait times for appointments (13 per cent), and clinical (28 per cent) were included in the remainder.
Research limitations/implications: The findings of this research are not generalisable beyond the Health Service District within which the data were collected. However, the principle of systematically using complaints information to improve practice and develop policy can be applied within all health services.
Practical implications: Recommendations to develop policies and improve practice that will address the matters identified in the complaints are made. Changes to complaints data records to assist future research are suggested. The need to facilitate indigenous patients' contribution to suggestions for service delivery improvement is highlighted.
Originality/value: The paper contributes to research that makes use of patient complaints to produce higher standards of patient service delivery.