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Old 03-21-2003, 12:56 PM
bordelond bordelond is offline
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: La Rive Ouest
Posts: 9,453
Best way to lodge a complaint against a private medical institution?

My wife is currently 35 weeks pregnant with our first child. Throughout the pregnancy, she has been concerned -- sometimes even frightened -- over the many unfamiliar things that have been happening to her body. I assume this is not an uncommon emotional reaction to pregnancy -- especially a first pregnancy.

To make a long story short, my wife was treated rudely today on the phone when she called her woman's health clinic to get advice on how she can safely deal with some severe sinus problems. Today, after a bout of sneezing, my wife saw spots. This frightened my wife, so she called the clinic.

The nurse my wife spoke to:

1) identified herself as "A nurse" when my wife asked to speak to her doctor's nurse. This nurse explicitly refused to identify herself by name when my wife asked.

2) remarked to my wife that "she had called the clinic several times recently" as if that were somehow relevant to my wife's symptoms today. The implication seems to be that my wife struck the nurse as a hypochondriac.

3) made a point of telling my wife that "no doctors were there today". This is a patent lie -- the doctors at this clinic regularly keep Friday appointments. Even if her doctor was called to the Labor & Delivery ward, it's unlikely ALL of them were. Therefore, the nurse's comment seems like it was meant to keep my wife from making an inconvenient impromptu appointment (as my wife had done the previous week due to painful colitis symptoms).

As far as I'm concerned --admittedly, getting this info from my wife second-hand -- the nurse she spoke with acted deplorably. What the heck was she doing minimizing and belittling my wife's complaint? A little beside manner, please?

What I'm wondering is how best to lodge a complaint? I've already called another branch of this clinic to get the name of someone who can accept a complaint. I was given the name of an office manager at the main clinic. Um ... somehow, that doesn't seem right.

So far, I'm dealing anonymously, because my wife fears she will get compromised care if it's known we've complained against the clinic. But once the baby's born, the gloves will come off.

What's a good course of action here? I'd like to complain at a level higher than the clinic -- perhaps a state board of Nursing or board of Medicine? Is there such a thing as a "medical audit" where these nurses would have state examiners watching their every move for a period of time to ensure that they were properly caring for their patients?

What can we do?
Old 03-22-2003, 04:28 AM
Violet Violet is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: USA
Posts: 3,231
You might check with your state's Dept. of Consumer Affairs. I'm assuming you're in the U.S.

I agree that the treatment toward your wife was shitty and disgusting.
Old 03-22-2003, 07:24 AM
MsRobyn MsRobyn is offline
Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between the Moon and NYC
Posts: 13,019
There are several people she can talk to regarding the improper care given to her by this nurse.

First, she can discuss it with her obstetrician. The symptoms described in the OP can be pre-eclampsia, which requires close monitoring. Very Bad Things can happen with women who aren't monitored. The obstetrician can educate and counsel the nurse as to proper phone behavior with women who are having problems that require medical attention.

Second, she can discuss it with the nursing supervisor (head of the nursing department), or the administrator. Save the administrator for last, because this person will want to know if you've talked to anyone else before reaching this level. It helps if you have the conversation documented. That the nurse did not give a name probably won't help, but I'm sure the hospital can figure it out. Also, find out if there is a patient advocacy department or a hospital ombudsman; their job is to accept complaints and help to resolve them.

If you're in the US, and you still don't get any satisfaction out of dealing with the hospital's people, you can lodge a complaint with either the state board that licenses hospitals (they do accept patient complaints), or with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAHO), who also accepts patient complaints.

In all seriousness, I would start with the lowest person and work my way up. If this nurse can be dealt with at a local level, then that would be the best course of action. At the very least, try to get a name for this person, which is going to help if you have to take it higher. If the hospital is adamant about protecting her, then take it to the state or national levels. Document everything that's happened, and everyone you speak to.

Finally, don't worry about compromising your wife's care. It is inappropriate for a health care facility to document complaints in the medical record, and anyone who takes a complaint into account when rendering care is behaving unprofessionally. And, in a few weeks, when HIPAA takes effect, your wife can review her medical record and request that inaccurate or incomplete information be removed from it, so if this is in there, it won't be for long.

Keep us posted, OK?

Old 03-22-2003, 07:27 AM
MsRobyn MsRobyn is offline
Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between the Moon and NYC
Posts: 13,019
Oh, and as a bonus, here's the direct link for patient complaints against a health care facility. From the page description, I don't know that this falls within their purview, but it's worth a try.

Old 03-22-2003, 10:04 PM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: Madison, WI
Posts: 36,997
Figuring out who to complain to can be a real problem in health care. At the hospital where I work, complaining to the physician is probably not the best route, since the nurses are employed by the hospital, but virtually none of the physicians are. So the doc might pass on the complaint, or speak privately to the nurse, but would have little if any disciplinary power.

Medical facilities are rats' nests of lines of authority. Speaking to the office manager is a good idea. You may not wish to lodge a complaint with that person, but you can find out more information about who IS responsible. Is the clinic affiliated with a hospital? An HMO? An independent partnership that does indeed hire its own nurses?

In my hospital you would lodge a complaint with either the Nurse Manager of the department (which from your description would probably be OB/GYN), the Director of Women's Health, or the Vice President for Medical Affairs.

I suggest you do talk to the office manager, and get more info on the corporate structure.


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