Why do patients complain? A primary health care study

Singapore Med J. 1998 Sep;39(9):390-5.


Background/aim of study: Patient complaints are indications of their dissatisfaction with the service received. With increasing patient expectations, we need to address this issue for a more satisfying relationship between healthcare provider and user. The objective of this study was to analyse the basis of patients' complaints and to make recommendations to reduce its incidence.

Method: This is a retrospective descriptive study of all complaints to the Family Health Service between January 1994 and December 1995. All complaints, investigations and replies to complainants were examined and analysed by the authors to determine the reasons for complaints and their justification.

Results: There were 226 complaint cases out of 5,620,834 attendances in two years, giving the complaints rate of 4 per 100,000 attendances per year. The complaint rate was highest for the 20-59-year age group and lowest in the 10-19-year age group (3.7 and 2.0 per 100,000 attendances respectively). Sixty-four percent of complaints were verbal and the rest were written. Forty-seven percent of the complaints were made by relatives and 46% were self-complaints. The main reasons for complaints were related to attitude/conduct (28.8%), professional skills (17.8%), patient expectations (16.2%), waiting time (10.0%) and communication (7.8%). Forty-three percent of complaints were evaluated as justifiable, 38% not justifiable and 19% inconclusive. There were no particular sex or ethnic group differences.

Conclusion: The rate of complaints in Family Health Service was low. Healthcare personnel need to pay attention to areas related to attitude/conduct, professional skills, patient expectations, waiting time and communication.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Singapore
  • State Medicine