Complaints to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta have increased by 58 per cent in the last two years.
Dr. Tom Noseworthy, who teaches health policy and management at the University of Calgary, said he believes the changes and controversies surrounding Alberta Health Services have undermined public confidence in the system.
But patient-doctor interactions are also naturally highly sensitive, Noseworthy said.
"When physicians and patients interact, this is some of the most intense and personal communication possible," said Noseworthy. "It doesn't always go well."
The total number of complaints the college received in 2010 was 867, up from 756 in 2009 and 550 in 2008. The biggest share of complaints had to do with management practices at 40 per cent, and 37 per cent pertained to quality of care.
Fifty-three per cent of complaint files were closed with no action taken, 20 per cent of files were resolved with advice or direction provided to a doctor and 16 per cent were resolved with an acknowledgement or apology by a doctor.
One recent complainant is Christina Hendra, a Calgary woman who filed after she lost a baby two years ago.
'It could be ... more patients are aware of the college and our role.' —Kelly Eby, CPSA spokeswoman
Hendra has three kids, and what would have been her fourth — a baby boy — died hours after she had an emergency C-section seven months into her pregnancy.
"It's just horrific to actually lose a child that you've been carrying for seven months, and to really look forward to an actual life with them and to feel them moving," she said.
Hendra said her baby died of a condition that could have been caught had her doctor looked at her medical history, which she said she provided him with.
It was her third high-risk pregnancy. Her daughter had anemia, and it was that condition her son died of. Hendra, who is also on the Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society board of directors, said the anemia could have been diagnosed and treated.
College spokeswoman Kelly Eby said it's not clear why there's been such a dramatic increase in complaints, but that it isn't necessarily cause for concern.
"In one way it can be a concern, but in another it could be that more people, more patients are aware of the college and our role," said Eby.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta regulates the practice of medicine in Alberta.