Script 423 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
If you have a complaint with your doctor, you have four options:
- Talk to your doctor to try to solve the problem. If this doesn’t work, or if the problem is too serious for this, consider the next three options.
- Complain to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (“College”). The College is the organization that licenses all BC doctors. The College protects the public by setting standards for doctors and by monitoring, evaluating, and disciplining them.
- See a lawyer or the police for advice – if you think the doctor has broken a criminal law.
- See a lawyer for advice about suing the doctor – refer to script 420, called “Medical Malpractice”.
Even if you complain to the College, you can still take the other legal actions against the doctor, described in items 3 and 4 – seeing a lawyer or the police, or both. In fact, if you feel the doctor has harmed you and you want compensation, you have to start legal action (item 4). If you have a complaint against a doctor while you’re in the hospital, you can also go to the head of the division or the hospital’s medical director, who will follow the hospital’s complaints process.
In addition, in 2008, the Patient Care Quality Review Board was established in BC as an additional hospital-complaints process. For more information, phone 1.866.952.2448, or visit the website at www.patientcarequalityreviewboard.ca.
Under the Health Professions Act, the College:
- licences qualified, competent medical practitioners
- adjudicates complaints about care provided by, and/or conduct of licensed physicians
Where necessary, the College has the authority to limit a physician’s practice, remove a physician from practice, and/or ensure that a physician receives treatment or remediation if patient safety is being compromised in any way.
If you decide to complain to the College, there are two types of complaints: general and concerns of an intimate or sexual nature.
Your right as a patient
In general, most physicians are willing to address a patient’s concerns directly. If you have a concern about your physician that involves communication, his/her conduct, or the treatment you have received, you should feel free to openly discuss these issues with your physician. If a conversation between you and your physician is unsuccessful, you may choose to file a complaint with the College for further investigation.
There is no specific time frame within which to file a complaint. However, it assists in the investigation process if your complaint is filed shortly after the alleged incident.
To make a general complaint to the College, you must do 3 things:
1. Complete and submit a Complaint Form, available on the College’s website.
2. Put your complaint in writing. Include:
- your name, address, and telephone number so that the College can contact you.
- the name and address of your doctor.
- the facts of what happened to you.
- your permission to send a copy of your complaint to the doctor for their response.
3. Send your written complaint to:
College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC
400 – 858 Beatty Street
Vancouver BC V6B 1C1
Please note: To protect your privacy and ensure confidentiality, the College does not accept complaints by email or telephone. Your complaint must be sent to the College in writing with your hand-written signature.
For more information, call the College at 604.733.7758 in Vancouver and 1.800.461.3008 elsewhere in BC. Or visit its website at www.cpsbc.ca.
What does the College do with your complaint?
What you can expect
Once the College has received and reviewed your written complaint, it will commence an investigation into your concerns, which will include obtaining further information from other individuals, where necessary, and obtaining relevant medical records. The College will also obtain the physician’s response to your complaint. The investigation into your complaint is an unbiased process based on the physician’s response to the complaint and a comprehensive review of medical records and other available documentation. Every complaint is reviewed and assessed on its own merits by the College’s Inquiry Committee, which consists of senior doctors and members of the public. The College may also attempt to resolve your concerns in a remedial manner – seeking to understand the circumstances surrounding the event, and how a similar situation can be avoided in future.
The Inquiry Committee reviews and discusses all the information in your complaint. The Committee may also direct that interviews be conducted with you, the doctor, other doctors involved in your case, and experts in the area.
What the College can do
Most complaints are addressed and resolved by the College’s staff through review of relevant records, and discussion or correspondence with the complainant(s) and the physician(s) involved, under the authority of the College's Inquiry Committee.
If the College finds that there are valid grounds for the complaint, the physician may be expected to change aspects of his/her practice, or undertake further education.
The College can also issue remedial advice or reprimands to physicians if there has been a failure to meet current standards of care or a significant departure from the ethical principles set out in the CMA Code of Ethics.
In extraordinary circumstances, subject to a completed formal disciplinary process, the College may restrict or prohibit a physician’s ability to practice medicine. Before the College can enforce restrictions, it needs substantiated evidence of a significant degree of a physician’s lack of judgment, unprofessional behaviour, lack of current skill or knowledge, or impaired fitness to practice. This evidence must be tested at a Discipline Committee Hearing, or alternatively, be agreed to by the physician as part of alternate dispute resolution.
What the College cannot do
The College does not have the authority to:
- Deal with concerns or complaints about hospitals, or other health care providers.
- Provide diagnoses or treatment recommendations, or direct the specifics of patient care.
- Provide any financial compensation to complainants.
- Contact the police on behalf of a complainant where illegal activities are suspected without the complainant’s specific consent.
- Adjudicate complaints without offering the physician(s) the opportunity to respond.
If you are not satisfied with the College’s decision regarding your complaint, you may apply to the Health Professions Review Board (HPRB) for a review of the decision. Applications must be delivered to the HPRB within 30 days of receiving the decision letter from the College. If you apply after 30 days, then you must also apply for an extension of time to file your application, explaining the special circumstances that caused you to miss the deadline. The Review Board can be reached at 250.953.4956 or toll-free within BC at 1.888.953.4986; or you may visit the website at www.hprb.gov.bc.ca.
Sexual misconduct complaints to the College against a doctor
The College has a special procedure for complaints of sexual misconduct by a doctor.
- Phone the College right away at 604.733.7758 in Vancouver or 1.800.461.3008 elsewhere in BC. Alternatively, if you prefer to contact the College in writing, you may submit a written letter that outlines the incident(s) or your concerns.
- A College Investigator assigned to your case will assist you with filing a sexual misconduct complaint by letter or by an agreed-to statement. The Investigator will provide you with necessary support and assistance throughout the proceedings, including interpretive services where required.
- At any time during the investigative process, you have a right to discuss your concerns, including whether or not you wish to proceed to the next step. If you choose to withdraw from the investigative process, the College’s ability to take action against the physician may be severely hindered.
- All sexual misconduct complaints are reviewed by the College’s Inquiry Committee. The committee is comprised of senior physician and non-physician members of the College’s board, all of whom are elected or appointed. The Inquiry Committee has a number of options available, which can include the initiation of formal charges of unprofessional conduct against the physician and a hearing of such charges by the College’s Discipline Committee.
Financial compensation – The College does not have any authority or mandate to provide or order financial compensation to complainants, except in some situations the provision of limited funding for counselling. If you wish to pursue financial compensation, you should consult a lawyer for legal advice regarding a civil law suit to claim for damages.
[updated March 2012]
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