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One Number

The purpose of filing complaints in medicine is to protect other patients, but to whom do you complain if you smell alcohol on your surgeon's breath? For that there should be a phone number that is well known enough to roll off the tongues of healthcare workers and patients. If you don't complain the next patient could get hurt. Since healthcare professionals almost never report problems or abuses, it is especially important for patients to do it for each other.

There is more than one reason for why we don't hear from the victims of crimes in medicine or their loved ones. One of the reasons is that there is no one to tell. State medical boards are of little use in this regard (see OSMB). Too often it is not even their jurisdiction. Need to report that your hospital is violating laws governing your care? Even with persistence and research, you will not find anyone to help you with that. In medicine, enforcing laws and regulations often is no one's job.

Complaints filed by patients do not result in discipline.

Most errors, abuses and crimes go unreported and uncounted. No one learns from them. Nothing improves. How many lives could be saved, how many abuses prevented, if we knew about them. Who do you call if the problem is with a pharmacist? Or a nurse? Or an anesthesiologist? Or a dentist? Usually there is an appropriate board to contact somewhere. How likely are you to persist in trying to figure it out when you are bleeding and in pain and you get a phone matrix and then a machine, and then a day later when someone finally returns your call, they are of no help. When you smell alcohol on your surgeon's breath, or when you've just had your life ruined by a lecher with a medical degree, you need help now. Three days of searching to find a board that has a form for you to fill out is too little too late. And then it turns out that the "appropriate" organization to which you are complaining works to protect and promote the interests of the people who did this to you. You might as well be complaining to the Klu Klux Klan about someone's hate speech.

There is no agency advocating for patients. In the end patients have no choice other than to call lawyers. But unless you have a big-money, easy-win case, you are not going to get a lawyer. Of the patients with legitimate grievances, only one in some thousands can get a lawyer. That's LEGITIMATE, not frivolous, grievances. The vast majority give up without even trying. They want help, not a court battle. So we never hear from them. We need to hear from them. Someone has to record what the problems are in medicine so that we can learn from them. Apparently, even the people who write the messages in fortune cookies know that. I got one that said, "Without memory there is no improvement." Why doesn't anyone in medicine know that? To escape liability, medicine has a disinterest in memory and works to defeat it even though the lives of patients depend on it.

There needs to be a phone number, one phone number for all complaints about healthcare. One single phone number answered by people who can explain which agency, which department, which person, and whatever else you need to know to respond to what has been done to you, or who can at least tell you when there is no appropriate number to call.

For amusement, if you want to hear what happens when you call the Ohio State Medical Board to complain, click phone matrix. As it plays, consider that the buttons were being pushed by a person who had been through that matrix enough times to have learned which buttons to push. What percentage of senior citizens could do the same?

Even when you do get to the end of it, you don't get help. It is not a legitimate complaint process. There isn't one. We need one. Perhaps it should be the phone number of a state patients board.