Doctors' experiences and their perception of the most stressful aspects of complaints processes in the UK: an analysis of qualitative survey data

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Title: Doctors' experiences and their perception of the most stressful aspects of complaints processes in the UK: an analysis of qualitative survey data
Author(s): Bourne, T
Vanderhaegen, J
Vranken, R
Wynants, L
De Cock, B
Peters, M
Timmerman, D
Van Calster, B
Jalmbrant, M
Van Audenhove, C
Item Type: Journal Article
Abstract: © Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited.Objectives To examine doctors experiences of complaints, including which aspects are most stressful. We also investigated how doctors felt complaints processes could be improved. Design and methods A qualitative study based on a cross-sectional survey of members of the British Medical Association (BMA). We asked the following: (1) Try to summarise as best as you can your experience of the complaints process and how it made you feel. (2) What were the most stressful aspects of the complaint? (3) What would you improve in the complaints system? Participants We sent the survey to 95 636 doctors, and received 10 930 (11.4%) responses. Of these, 6146 had a previous, recent or current complaint and 3417 (31.3%) of these respondents answered questions 1 and 2. We randomly selected 1000 answers for analysis, and included 100 using the saturation principle. Of this cohort, 93 responses for question 3 were available. Main results Doctors frequently reported feeling powerless, emotionally distressed, and experiencing negative feelings towards both those managing complaints and the complainants themselves. Many felt unsupported, fearful of the consequences and that the complaint was unfair. The most stressful aspects were the prolonged duration and unpredictability of procedures, managerial incompetence, poor communication and perceiving that processes are biased in favour of complainants. Many reported practising defensively or considering changing career after a complaint, and few found any positive outcomes from complaints investigations. Physicians suggested procedures should be more transparent, competently managed, time limited, and that there should be an open dialogue with complainants and policies for dealing with vexatious complaints. Some felt more support for doctors was needed. Conclusions Complaints seriously impact on doctors psychological wellbeing, and are associated with defensive practise. This is not beneficial to patient care. To improve procedures, doctors propose they are simplified, time limited and more transparent.
Publication Date: 4-Jul-2016
Date of Acceptance: 31-May-2016
ISSN: 2044-6055
Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group
Journal / Book Title: BMJ Open
Volume: 6
Issue: 7
Copyright Statement: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:
Physician impairment
Physician impairment
Publication Status: Published
Article Number: e011711
Open Access location:
Appears in Collections:Division of Surgery
Faculty of Medicine

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