Researchers conduct largest patient complaint study to date

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Researchers conduct largest patient complaint study to date

A recent study found that besides excellent clinical care and patient safety, communication and interpersonal skills are nearly equally integral to oral health care. (Image: Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)

Wed. 11. December 2019


TORONTO, Canada: Researchers from the University of Toronto have recently conducted the largest longitudinal study of patient complaints to date. In the study, they analyzed complaints made over a period of eleven years to the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO), the regulatory and licensing body governing Ontario’s dentists and their standards of practice. The study provided insights into perceptions surrounding oral health care professionals and their standards of care and highlighted the importance of high-quality clinical care and treatment.

Over the course of nearly two years, the researchers examined 2,199 out of 4,627 complaints submitted to the college. Since the majority of complaints originated with patients, the researchers also collected sample complaints from family members, dentists, hygienists, nurses and pharmacists.

“This is a unique study of its kind internationally,” said lead author Dr. Carlos Quiñonez, associate professor and director of the graduate program in dental public health in the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto. “People have conducted similar studies in hospital and other health care settings, using questionnaires and patient satisfaction surveys, or case files of regulatory findings once the regulator has weighed in. But no one has taken this volume of complaints to a regulator and quantified them,” he noted.

To maintain objectivity and avoid bias, the researchers piloted a framework that turned qualitative complaints into quantitative data by coding them and then organizing them into various domains and subdomains. “One’s experience when receiving care is so subjective, so how that translates into the letters themselves is very unique,” explained co-author Monika Roerig, research coordinator at the university.

The findings indicated that 59% of all complaints made to the RCDSO related to clinical care and treatment, and that 56% involved interpersonal relationships and conduct and issues around informed consent. Additionally, 42% of the complaints involved issues with management and access to care.

“I think this study really revealed some valuable information from all members of the public,” Roerig said. “The study shows us that it’s important to have excellent clinical care and safety, but communication and interpersonal skills were extremely important. The two work hand in hand.”

The researchers believe that the findings could help improve patient experience in the dental office and impact continuing education trends and practice standards. “I don’t think we do enough on communication, on relational competency,” said Quiñonez. “We can do better from the point of view of social competence in dentistry.”

The study, titled Analyzing Complaints Made by the Public to the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, was published by the RCDSO and the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry. It is available on the RCDSO website.

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