Ahpra launches new checklist to help health practitioners better address complaints from patients and clients

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) has launched a new checklist aimed at equipping registered health practitioners to better handle patient complaints so that issues can be resolved quickly and effectively when first raised.

The joint project between the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and Ahpra and the 15 National Boards was developed in consultation with consumers, health complaints bodies, professional organisations and indemnity insurers.

The checklist calls on health practitioners to promote a positive feedback and complaints culture, acknowledge and respond to complaints promptly and sensitively, and use feedback and complaints to reflect and make improvements.

“This checklist was developed with insights from consumers and the CHF welcomes its release to enhance Ahpra’s existing patient complaint processes,’ said Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) CEO Dr Elizabeth Deveny said.

“It’s important that health practitioners feel supported in dealing with patient concerns and complaints as issues can often be resolved at this point. 

“Of course, there will always be a need for some patients to make formal complaints to an independent body and CHF will continue to work with Ahpra to make that process as easy and accessible as possible.”

Well-managed feedback or complaints can:

  • lead to concerns being resolved more quickly and easily
  • increase patient, client and the community’s confidence in a practitioner or health service
  • result in changes to improve services in response to the concerns raised, and
  • prevent a concern escalating to an external complaint body or regulator

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care CEO, Conjoint Professor Anne Duggan, said: “Respectfully listening to patients and their carers’ concerns, together with taking corrective action as soon as possible, not only improves the quality of services provided but creates a positive culture to support the relationships which are important to ongoing care. This checklist will be helpful for clinicians wanting to improve their complaints handling.”

According to Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher, complaints about an individual practitioner’s communication made up 12.6% of all the types of concerns received by the regulator in 2022/23.

The types of concerns relating to communication include practitioners:

  • not responding to contact from patients
  • being rude and dismissive of patients’ concerns
  • not adequately communicating treatment plans, and
  • not openly communicating or being transparent about errors in their practice.

“We know that receiving negative feedback or a complaint can be confronting and may be stressful for practitioners,” Mr Fletcher acknowledged.

 “The checklist provides guidance, so practitioners are more equipped to deal with feedback and complaints that are made directly to them by patients or clients. We hope it will help practitioners better resolve some of these concerns when they are first raised.”  

The checklist is a resource to support practice and does not impose any additional obligations on practitioners. National Boards’ expectations about what to do when a practitioner receives a complaint from a patient or client is outlined in their respective codes of conduct or ethics.

The checklist, along with other resources covering a range of topics to support practitioner’s practice, are available on Ahpra’s Resources page.

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