Finding a middle way

A patient wanted to lodge a complaint against a health professional. There was just one problem: the patient could not remember the person’s full name. While he could recall the professional’s first name, position and employer, that was not enough for the college to agree to hear the patient’s complaint of unprofessional conduct.

When investigating the case, the Ombudsman discovered correspondence that directed the patient to submit a written and signed document, including the full name of the college member. The correspondence also stated this requirement was in accordance with the Health Professions Act. Otherwise, the complainant was told the college could do nothing but “shred” his complaint. The letter did not contain instructions for how to obtain the health professional’s last name.

The college was incorrect. The Act does not require a last name. However, we recognized that investigating every complaint with limited identifying information could pose a challenge for the college. We also recognized there are security considerations that prevent institutions from divulging full names of their staff as a matter of everyday practice.

The Ombudsman found a middle way that met the concerns of both the patient and the college: we recommended the college write to the patient, provide contact information for the employer of the health professional, and include instructions for the employer to provide the full name of the professional member directly to the college.

The Ombudsman also recommended several other policy changes, including a process for referring complainants unaware of the names of the member to the employer of the regulated member, as well as a policy to document contacts with the public in a standardized format.

How is this fair for Albertans?

Sometimes, people need help finding information they need to lodge a complaint of unprofessional conduct. In this case, with a patient in a mental health facility, the challenge was even greater.

One of the purposes of a college is to protect the public from unprofessional conduct by their members. This means they should be helpful to the complainant where possible, and not be obstructionist.

This policy change will help ensure individuals have a clearer path to obtaining information needed to pursue complaints.