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Teachable Moments: Learning from Patient Complaints

Newly implemented government regulations are set to improve the state of patient relations in hospitals across Ontario.

When I have medical students with me in the Family Medicine clinic or in the Emergency Departments I try to look for teachable moments: unplanned opportunities for learning that I can identify and share.

A teachable moment may not always arise in the clinical setting or in the moment. They may also arise from positive or negative moments, but, arguably, we have the most to learn from the negative ones. Some of the hardest moments are those when a patient, caregiver or family member has a complaint about their experience.

Complaints can be hard to make and difficult to receive but when managed properly, they can prompt improvements to quality of care – the ultimate teachable moment.

New government regulations are trying to improve the state of patient relations in hospitals throughout the province.

The government has recently enacted Regulation 188/15 to strengthen the patient relations processes that many hospitals already have in place. The regulation helps better inform patients about patient relations processes and ensures designated patient relations process representatives are in place. It also introduces new standards for hospitals in storing patient feedback and data. By updating and reorganizing patient relations processes, this regulation will strengthen the individual and collective ability of hospitals to resolve and learn from complaints.

To support hospitals in adapting to this regulation, Health Quality Ontario (HQO) has developed a comprehensive checklist that provides a high-level glance at best practices in patient relations. HQO has also produced a more detailed document titled Engaging with Patients and Caregivers about Patient Relations: A Guide for Hospitals, which shows the many ways acute care organizations can better engage patients and family members in the creation and refinement of complaints management processes.

These documents work hand-in-hand with the Patient Relations Toolkit, created by the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), which contains information on establishing patient relations processes, increasing patient awareness and reporting on important issues.

As each complaint is managed through an improved patient relations process, it ideally will serve as a teachable moment with tangible results. As we accumulate more teachable moments the quality of care will improve for everyone.

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Claude Lurette and Kowsiya Vijayartnam, Health Quality Ontario Patient, Family and Caregiver Advisors Council Co-Chairs

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