In 1644 John Milton said, ‘When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then this is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look for.”
We hope you file a complaint, but the only entities with whom you can file a complaint are ones that are on the side of the people about whom you are complaining. As the American Iatrogenic Association said, “Keep in mind that state medical boards are generally comprised of physicians. As with all such agencies that regulate occupations, members of these boards feel a personal and professional kinship with those who they regulate. In other words, doctors do not regulate doctors effectively. Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, a state medical board does not operate in your interest.”
We need State Patients Boards
A medical malpractice lawyer in Pennsylvania told us, “I’ve tried myself to go to state licensing boards. They are lazy, powerless, and have absolutely no incentive to police their own brothers or expose them when they’re all in it together. Justice doesn’t matter—only winning.”
Rights without remedies are hollow.
– Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law Professor
One in some thousands of patients with legitimate grievances (a researched statistic – see Studdert) does turn out to be the right kind of patient with the right kind of injury with the right kind of big-money, easy-win case that attracts a lawyer. The rest of the patients are dispensed with quite easily by the healthcare industry. The best a patient can do is file complaints with agencies that do not represent patients and that have complaint processes that are designed to placate, if not stymie, patients rather than get to the bottom of problems.
Frequently the state medical board is the only choice. There is no central database for complaints about medicine. The federal government has a database for complaints about unsafe products, but there is no such thing for unsafe health care. For other products, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a database in which you can file complaints about products that you buy. And they recently have established a database for complaints about medical devices, but there is no such thing for complaints about the rest of what happens to patients in health care.
In health care, the blood bank is managed by Dracula. That is not too harsh of a way to say it. Physicians with loyalties to each other are the only people to whom you can complain, and what they do is protect each other (see OSMB for starters).
We still hope you will complain, even though most patients with legitimate complaints don’t, in part because of how the process has been set up to discourage them. For example, the difficulty of learning how and to whom to complain – that alone is unacceptable and discouraging. And the unfriendly nature of the process.
Even I didn’t complain about one of the things a care giver did to me, but granted, by that time I knew so much about what happens when one does that I already knew what to expect, having been around this block before.
This is only one of the things done to me by care givers, and not the major life-ruining event that turned me into a full time patient, but I discovered that my dentist was doing unnecessary work (the dental hygienist warned me, a second opinion from another dentist confirmed it) and even I didn’t file a complaint because of how intimidating and obscure the process is, coupled with how apparent it becomes that the process is not on your side.
But we should. If enough complaints pile up about a specific practitioner, it is possible that someday someone could be helped by it, although don’t bet on it. There is no one in this process advocating for patients. Even when the problem is a chronic sex predator. Even when the problem is a serial killer. I will link you to two examples, but there are plenty more on this site: Dr. Kashyap and Dr. Burt.
Just in trying to figure out how and to whom to complain one can smell a rat. Nothing about it feels as though there can be an upside to it. And, in fact, that almost always is the case. If your own misadventure in medicine impels you to try to do something to protect other patients, a good cause to take up would be trying to bring to the public’s and the government’s attention to the fact that there is no reasonable complaint process to which patients can turn. State medical boards are lobbyists for doctors, not protectors of patients.
In the meantime, here is information about how to file your complaint with those people.
How to file a complaint about your health care
List of state medical boards to whom to complain
In addition to complaining to the state medical board, complain to the facility in which it happened (sometimes they refuse to let you complain, other times they send the complaint straight to the people about whom you complained – read elsewhere on this site about what results from that). If you intend only to jot a note expressing your concerns, the links above are all you need. If you want to do more than that (and you need to if you don’t want it effectively to be dismissed by the first person who reads it), what’s below may be of help.
Instructions for writing complaints
Release of Medical Information, a legal form
(I used to include my email address here for injured patients with questions. After about a decade of answering the emails and phone calls, it was too discouraging watching intelligent, dedicated injured patients get so beat up by the system, without any of them ever getting justice, that I finally stopped in order to work on the problem from another angle.)
In some cases you might want to complain to your insurance company as well. They have complaint departments and investigators. Also, many cities have a local guild to which area doctors belong. Such guilds chiefly serve other purposes, but can receive complaints. Although, like state medical boards, they lobby for doctors not patients. Your a sheep complaining to a community of wolves about one of their wolves.
Still, you should complain. It is rare for medical personnel to report problems, so patients have to.
Subjects not to bother complaining about include attitude, rudeness, long waits in reception areas, anything having to do with money, and such like. They won’t even read complaints about those subjects. Which is another reason there should be an agency representing patients (like perhaps a state patients board). If nothing else, such an agency could explain to patients how to respond to such problems without filing complaints.