Complaints against Mental Health Practitioners

According to a study using complaints data from health regulators in Australia, mental health practitioners (psychiatrists and psychologists) are more likely to be the subject of complaints than physical health practitioners.

Areas of increased risk are related to professional ethics, communication skills and the health of mental health practitioners themselves.

Other findings included:

  1. The complaint rate among psychiatrists was more than double than among physicians.
  2. The complaint rate among psychologists was nearly treble than among other allied health practitioners.
  3. Psychiatrists had nearly double the risk of complaints about communication and nearly five times the risk of complaints about prescribing as their physician colleagues.
  4. Male psychiatrists and psychologists had higher complaint rates than their female peers .
  5. Mental health practitioners had three times the risk of complaint regarding sexual boundary breaches compared with physical health practitioners.
  6. Older mental health practitioners had a higher risk of complaints than their younger peers, after adjusting for sex and practice location. For both psychiatrists and psychologists, complaint risk increased steadily by age band, with practitioners aged ≥65 years having around twice the risk of complaint compared with those aged 36–45 years.

The authors of the study analysed 7903 complaints over a 6 year period from 2011-2016. The complaints dataset consisted of information on all complaints about these practitioners lodged with regulators during the study period. AHPRA provided complaints data for all states and territories, except New South Wales. HPCA provided equivalent data for New South Wales.

It was also noted that “the complaints in our study probably underrepresent harm and concern experienced by patients as we only included complaints to regulators, thus missing complaints made directly to the practitioner, their employer or other agencies, and adverse events where no complaint was laid.”

Source: Veness BG, Tibble H, Grenyer BFS, et al. Complaint risk among mental health practitioners compared with physical health practitioners: a retrospective cohort study of complaints to health regulators in Australia. BMJ Open 2019;9:e030525. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2019-030525

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