Sharing the pain: Lessons from missed opportunities for healthcare improvement from patient complaints and litigation in the Australian health system

Benjamin M. Nowotny, Erwin Loh, Katherine Lorenz, Euan M. Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Learning from medical errors to prevent their recurrence is an important component of any healthcare system's quality and safety improvement functions. Traditionally, this been achieved principally from review of adverse clinical outcomes. The opportunity to learn systematically and in a system manner from patient complaints and litigation has been less well harnessed. Herein we describe the pathways and processes for both patient complaints and medicolegal claims in Victoria, and Australia more broadly, and assess the potential for these to be used for system improvement. We conclude that both patient complaints and medicolegal claims could afford the potential to additionally inform and direct safety and quality improvement. At present neither patient complaints nor medicolegal claims are used systematically to improve patient safety. We identify how this may be done, particularly through sharing findings across agencies. What is known about the topic?: Patient complaints and medicolegal claims are accepted parts of the healthcare industry. However, using these in a shared and collated manner as part of an improvement agenda has not been widely considered or proposed. What does the paper add?: This paper provides a summary of the patient complaint and medicolegal landscape in public hospital system in Australia broadly, and Victoria more specifically, identifying the agencies involved and the opportunities for sharing learnings. The paper draws on existing literature and experiences from both Australia and elsewhere to propose a framework whereby complaints and claims data could be shared systematically and strategically to reduce future harm and improve patient care. What are the implications for practitioners?: We offer an approach for practitioners, healthcare managers and policy makers in all Australian jurisdictions to design and implement a statewide capacity to share patient complaints and medicolegal claims as an additional component of system quality and safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-391
Number of pages10
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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