A registrar survival guide - Dealing with complaints

Receiving a complaint as a registrar can be a blow to your confidence. Your instinct may be to think you're a bad doctor, but it is worth bearing in mind that a patient can have any number of reasons for not being satisfied.

Complaints affect all doctors and are a routine part of clinical practice, so developing a constructive approach to dealing with them early on in your career is helpful. Here are some tips:

Talk to a colleague
It is likely to be the practice manager who brings the complaint to your attention and they are a useful first point of contact.

Remember they are not clinically qualified so you should discuss the complaint with your trainer, who can support you through the process.

Speak to your medical defence union
They provide trained medico-legal advisers 24 hours a day who can help with drafting an initial response, as well as provide support if the complaint is taken further. Most complaints are dealt with efficiently via 'local resolution' within the practice.

Do not sit on it
The GMC advises that patients who have lodged a complaint deserve 'a prompt, open, constructive and honest response including an explanation and, if appropriate, an apology'. Other than oral complaints that can be resolved satisfactorily within one working day, all complaints need to be acknowledged in writing within three working days.

For details on writing a response, contact your medical defence union, which can provide written guidance.

Apologise where appropriate
A sincere expression of regret, along with evidence of investigation into what happened, is usually all the complainant wants.

Being open and acknowledging mistakes can go a long way in defusing the situation and is not an admission of liability.

Learn from it
Every doctor can learn from a complaint and, most importantly, what can be done to avoid the problem happening again.

Significant event meetings at the practice allow discussion between colleagues and you should document your learning points in your CPD organiser. As a qualified GP you will need to discuss complaints as part of your appraisal process, so it is necessary to become comfortable with this sort of reflection.

Essentials Checklist
  • Good communication with the patient.
  • An open, honest approach.
  • An ability to control your emotions.
  • Membership of a medical defence union.
  • Dr Shoba Poduval is a GP registrar in Essex.

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