Nova Scotia·health hacks

How to complain about health care and actually be heard

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton offers tips for knowing who to call — and what to say — when you're not happy with the care you've received.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks with CBC's Information Morning

Health-care consultant Mary-Jane Hamptons says there are few resources online for patients who want to raise legitimate concerns with their providers. (Robert Short/CBC)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

While it can seem like there's plenty to complain about with health care in Nova Scotia, consultant Mary Jane Hampton says patients have a better chance of being heard if they follow a few simple steps.

"My first advice is not call the health minister. I think that there is actually an inclination to do that more frequently than is really helpful," Hampton told CBC's Information Morning.

She said there are few resources that effectively guide people on how to make a complaint so it's up to patients to find their voice. But that's not always easy.

"It's important to acknowledge that in the patient-provider relationship there is a natural and immediate power imbalance," she said. "As a patient you already feel intimidated, you feel that the white coat in front of you is the expert and you're not."

Mary Jane Hampton is a health-care consultant and a columnist on CBC's Information Morning. (Robert Short/CBC)

As important as it is to raise legitimate concerns, Hampton said there's no place in the health-care system for bullying or abuse.

Violence against doctors and nurses is a big problem that can't be ignored, she said.

"It ranges from being yelled at and sworn at right through to the other continuum of being beaten, kicked, spit on, hit. It's awful stuff," she said.

There's also research that shows abusive patients receive poorer care, Hampton said.

So how do you complain effectively? Hampton offers these tips for patients:

  • Find your voice and be calm. "If it can't be your voice then find someone who can speak on your behalf." That could be a family member, a friend or a patient representative.
  • Write everything down. That means dates, times, names and what happened.
  • Let the caregiver or staff member help. It's important to offer them an opportunity to solve the problem rather than immediately going over their head. The centralization of health care has taken the power away from those on the front line, said Hampton. Patients can help give that power back.
  • If the front-line worker can't or won't help, ask who you should speak to.
  • Don't make your complaint personal, unless it's about an issue of professionalism, in which case you should direct your concern to the right regulatory body and hospital administration.
  • It's just as important to give positive feedback. Patients can help shape the system by letting their providers know what they want and need.

Hampton said the key thing to remember is to be calm and only escalate the situation as far as you need to.

"Remember, the provider that you're dealing with today may well have just dealt with one of those really abusive patients or family members," she said. "I think we all need to be mindful of the fact that we're all human beings going through the system together."

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning