Patients' complaints in a hospital emergency department in Singapore.
INTRODUCTION: This study analysed the complaint rates, profile and trend, and complainant profile of patients' complaints received by the National University Hospital Emergency Medicine Department. An earlier ten-year study (1986-1995) was done on the complaint profile. METHODS: Records of all patients' complaints, solicited and unsolicited, from January 2002 to December 2003, were retrieved from the Medical Affairs and Quality Improvement Unit files. Complaint profile analysed was reason, validity, and outcome of complaint and staff category involved. Complainant profile analysed was relationship of complainant to patient, ethnic group, gender and residence type of the complainant; and age group and triage category of the patient. RESULTS: Complaint case rate was 1.17 per 1,000 visits, with 1.27 complaints per complaint case. The complaints were organisation/logistics (49.0 percent), communication (26.0 percent), standard of care (22.9 percent) and other issues (1.3 percent). Most standard of care (76.0 percent) and half of organisation/logistics complaints (46.8 percent) were not valid. Most communication complaints were valid (73.7 percent) and involved all staff categories equally. Most complaints (82.8 percent) were resolved with an explanation/apology. Age group specific and triage-specific complaint rates were highest among adult patients and among priority 3 patients, respectively; ethnic group and gender-specific complaint rates were highest among Chinese patients and among female patients, respectively. CONCLUSION: Staff-patient communication and organisation/logistics must be continually improved to reduce complaints, while upholding a good standard of care. These would translate into cost savings for all parties. There must also be appropriate checks and balances particularly where complaints are not valid, so that doctors can practice cost-effective medicine.