Most common complaints against five health professions revealed

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The most common complaints against five different health professions are profiled in the latest issue of Australian Health Review (AHR), the professional journal of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.

An author team led by Professor Merrilyn Walton from the University of Sydney examined over 12,600 complaints made over an 18-month period across medicine, dentistry, nursing/midwifery, pharmacy and psychology. There were 545,300 practitioners registered at the time.

The overall rate of complaints was therefore low, at an annual rate of around 1.5 complaints per 100 practitioners. Regardless of health profession, male professionals were at least twice as likely as female professionals to have a complaint made against them.

Clinical care was the most common area of complaint for medicine (50% of complaints), dentistry (71%), nursing/midwifery (27%) and psychology (19%). Complaints about clinical care were mostly concerning inadequate or inappropriate treatment or procedures.

For pharmacy, medications were unsurprisingly the most common area of complaint (61%), and included inappropriate, unlawful or inaccurate dispensing, and inappropriate supply.

Communication issues were the second most common area of complaint against doctors (10%), whereas for dentists the second most common area was billing (7%).

In nursing/midwifery, which had the highest number but lowest rate of complaints, ‘health impairment’ on the part of the nurse or midwife, particularly mental illness, was the second most common area of complaint (23% of complaints).

For psychology, inadequate or misleading documentation or reports was an area of concern in 12% of complaints, as was boundary crossing/violation (12%), and communication (10%).

In other AHR articles published today:

  • In ‘We get so task-orientated we forget about the people’, a team from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute examined ways of improving communication with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cardiac patients.
  • A multi-author team examined support for, and challenges to, health services research across Australia and New Zealand—including barriers to quantifying the effects of such research on health policy or practice.
  • A South Australian research team examined readmissions to major public hospitals in that state, comparing ‘index’ to ‘non-index’ readmissions (same vs different hospital to the original admission). Non-index readmissions had no immediate adverse effect, but 30-day outcomes were worse.
  • A Queensland team examined the problem of growth in student placements not matching growth in student numbers in the allied health professions of imaging/radiation therapy/ultrasound, nutrition and dietetics, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech pathology. 
  • Another Queensland team examined the effectiveness of a range of health apps for self-managing chronic disease. Only diabetes apps were found to be effective; for others the evidence was either lacking or conflicting, prompting the authors to propose evaluation criteria to be used by standards-setting bodies.

The February 2020 edition of Australian Health Review can be accessed here.

More information on AHHA is available at

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries: Dr Sonĵ Hall, Editor in Chief, Australian Health Review 0427 613 587