An analysis of risk factors for patient complaints about ambulatory anesthesiology care

Anesth Analg. 2013 Jun;116(6):1325-32. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e31827aef83. Epub 2013 Feb 5.


Background: Anesthesiology groups continually seek data sources and evaluation metrics for ongoing professional practice evaluation, credentialing, and other quality initiatives. The analysis of patient complaints associated with physicians has been previously shown to be a marker for patient dissatisfaction and a predictor of malpractice claims. Additionally, previous studies in other specialties have revealed a nonuniform distribution of complaints among professionals. In this study, we describe the distribution of complaints among anesthesia providers and identify factors associated with complaint risk in pediatric and adult populations.

Methods: We performed an analysis of a complaint database for an academic medical center. Complaints were recorded as comments during postoperative telephone calls to ambulatory surgery patients regarding the quality of their anesthesiology care. Calls between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2010 were included. Risk factors were grouped into 3 categories: patient demographics, procedural, and provider characteristics.

Results: A total of 22,871 calls placed on behalf of 120 anesthesiologists were evaluated, of which 307 yielded a complaint. There was no evidence of provider-to-provider heterogeneity in complaint risk in the pediatric population. In the adult population, an unadjusted test for the random intercept variance component in the mixed effects model pointed toward significant heterogeneity (P = 0.01); however, after adjusting for a prespecified set of risk factors, provider-to-provider heterogeneity was no longer observed (P = 0.20). Several risk factors exhibited evidence for complaint risk. In the pediatric patient model, risk factors associated with complaint risk included a 10-year change in age, the use of general anesthesia (versus not), and a 1-hour change in the actual minus scheduled start times. Odds ratios were 1.47 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.04-2.08), 0.22 (95% CI, 0.07-0.62), and 1.27 (95% CI, 1.10-1.47), respectively. In the adult patient model, risk factors associated with complaint risk included male gender, general anesthesia, a 10-year change in provider experience, and speaking with the patient (rather than a family member). Odd ratios were 0.66 (95% CI, 0.47-0.92), 0.67 (95% CI, 0.47-0.95), 1.18 (95% CI, 1.01-1.38), and 1.96 (95% CI, 1.17-3.29), respectively.

Conclusions: There was apparent evidence in adult patients to suggest heterogeneity in provider risk for a patient complaint. However, once patient, procedural, and provider factors were acknowledged in analyses, such evidence for heterogeneity is diminished substantially. Further study into how and why these factors are associated with greater complaint risk may reveal potential interventions to decrease complaints.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures*
  • Anesthesia / adverse effects*
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Malpractice
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Risk Factors