Remedies Sought and Obtained in Healthcare Complaints
In the wake of adverse events, injured patients and their families have a complex range of needs and wants. The tort system, even when operating at its best, will inevitably fall far short of addressing them. In Australia and New Zealand, government-run health complaints commissions take a more flexible and expansive approach to providing remedies for patients injured by or disgruntled with care. Unfortunately, survey research has shown that many patients in these systems are dissatisfied with their experience. We hypothesised that an important explanation for this dissatisfaction is an 'expectations gap'; discordance between what complainants want and what they eventually get out of the process. Analysing a sample of complaints relating to informed consent from the Commission in Victoria (Australia's second largest state, with 5.2 million residents), we found evidence of such a gap. One-third (59/189) of complainants who sought restoration received it; 1 in 5 complainants (17/101) who sought correction received assurances that changes had been or would be made to reduce the risk of others suffering a similar harm; and fewer than 1 in 10 (3/37) who sought sanctions saw steps taken to achieve this outcome initiated. We argue that bridging the expectations gap would go far toward improving patient satisfaction with complaints systems, and suggest several ways this might be done.