Objective: To identify characteristics of doctors who are repeated subjects of complaints by patients.
Design and setting: Case-control study of doctors about whom patients had complained to the Victorian Health Services Commissioner between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2009.
Participants: 384 doctors in private practice; cases comprised 96 doctors who were the subject of four or more separate complaints; and the control group comprised 288 doctors who were the subject of a single complaint over the study period.
Results: Among doctors in private practice in Victoria, 20.5% (95% CI, 19.7%-21.3%) experienced at least one complaint over the decade. Among doctors who were the subject of a complaint, 4.5% (95% CI, 3.6%-5.4%) had four or more complaints, and this group accounted for 17.6% (95% CI, 16.3%-19.0%) of all complaints to the Victorian Health Services Commissioner. Multivariate analyses showed that surgeons (odds ratio [OR], 8.90; 95% CI, 3.69-21.50) and psychiatrists (OR, 4.59; 95% CI, 1.46-14.43) had higher odds of being in the complaint-prone group than general practitioners. Doctors trained overseas had lower odds of being complaint-prone than those trained in Australia (OR, 0.31; 95% CI, 0.13-0.72).
Conclusions: A small group of doctors in private practice in Victoria account for nearly 18% of complaints. Interventions to improve patient satisfaction and public confidence in health services should target complaint-prone subgroups of practitioners.