Patient complaints and malpractice risk in a regional healthcare center

Gerald B. Hickson, Charles F. Federspiel, Jennifer Blackford, James W. Pichert, Walter Gaska, Michael W. Merrigan, Cynthia S. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To study the association between physicians' complaint records and their risk management experiences in a regional healthcare center. DATA SOURCES: Patient complaints about physicians in a large border state medical center's hospital and outpatient clinics were recorded and coded. The study period was from January 2001 through December 2003. These records were linked to the counterpart physicians' data covered by the institutions' risk management plan through June 2004. STUDY DESIGN AND DATA COLLECTION: All physicians at the institution who had contact with patients during the study period were identified as surgeons or nonsurgeons. Complaints for these physicians were recorded by the institution's Office of Patient Relations (OPR) and independently coded using a standardized protocol to characterize the nature of the problem and to uniquely identify the person complained about. The complaint records were then linked to the risk management files (RMFs) for the defined physician cohort. In addition, these data were supplemented with clinical service values (RVUs) which were available for 338 members (76%) of the 445 member cohort. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Both patient complaints and risk management events were higher for surgeons than for nonsurgeons. This was true for the number of RMFs, those involving expenditures, and for lawsuits. Logistic regression was used to assess the effects of complaint counts, practice type and volume of clinical activity. All were statistically significant in predicting the number of RMF openings, RMF openings with expenditures and lawsuits. Predictive concordance was 75% or greater for each of the three risk management outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: Expressions of patient dissatisfaction and practice type are significantly related to risk management experiences in a regional medical center. Associations of risk management experiences with volume of clinical activity (RVUs) for surgeons in the regional medical center environment were not as strong as those found in a similar study reported from an academic medical center.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-796
Number of pages6
JournalSouthern Medical Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Medical malpractice
  • Patient complaints
  • Regional health center

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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