Complaints Process

What is the process for filing a complaint with the College?

To protect patient privacy and ensure high levels of confidentiality, the College requires all formal complaints to be in writing—signed by the complainant or his/her legal representative, and delivered by hand, mail or fax to the College. The College does not, and cannot, accept complaints by email.

Complainants may also complete a Complaint Form.

May I file a complaint on behalf of someone else?

It is preferable for the complaint to come from the patient or someone who is directly involved with the patient’s concern. A representative is acceptable as long as the patient (or next of kin/executor if the patient has passed away) gives consent to the representative to file a complaint on his/her behalf. This representative can be an individual with a connection to the patient, has power of attorney, an executor, etc.

How are complaints dealt with by the College?

The College will inform the physician of the complaint by providing him/her with a copy of the complaint letter/form. The physician will then be asked to respond. The College may contact other individuals who have been identified as holding relevant information to the investigation. The College may also obtain copies of office or hospital records. When all relevant information has been received, the College will review and adjudicate the complaint.

Who reviews the complaint file?

Once the College has received all the relevant information from the patient, the physician(s) involved, the hospital(s), and/or other physicians, the complete file will be reviewed by one of the College's staff physicians who summarizes the complaint and provides that summary, along with all relevant documents, to the College’s Inquiry Committee.

The Inquiry Committee includes both physician and public members of the College Board and other appointed physicians or non-physicians with specific areas of expertise. The committee is divided into different panels as a way of reviewing complaints more efficiently. The committee members review and discuss all of the information pertinent to the complaint. In some circumstances, they may also choose to conduct interviews with the physician(s) involved in the patient’s care, as well as seek input from independent experts. Based on its investigation, the Inquiry Committee then renders a decision.

What happens after the investigation?

Upon completion of the investigation, the patient (and the physician(s) involved) will receive a written explanation of the College's review and opinion in response to the complaint. This explanation will include a summary of the physician's response, a description of other information considered, and an opinion, along with reasons for that opinion.

If the College is critical of the physician, the College may:

  • inform the physician why there was criticism and/or where s/he erred
  • provide advice to the physician on how to improve his/her conduct or practice; including the requirement to take educational courses
  • request that the physician come to the College for an interview
  • provide guidance and reminders to all physicians on expected standards of care through communication in its official publications
  • warn the physician that, if similar conduct occurs again, more serious disciplinary action may be considered
  • order a general review of the physician’s practice
  • issue a citation for a hearing by the Disciplinary Committee if remediation is not appropriate or sufficient to address the concerns

Whether or not the College is critical, all complaints about physicians remain in the physician's file at the College.

How long does the complaints process take?

The review process requires time; however, the College tries to resolve complaints within six to eight months. As set out in the Health Professions Act, complaints which are very unlikely to lead to limits or conditions on a physician’s practice may be responded to by one of the College’s staff physicians directly. A summary of the response and all relevant documentation are submitted to the Inquiry Committee for review and confirmation

What happens if a formal charge is initiated by the College against a physician?

If formal charges are initiated by the College against a physician as a result of a complaint, a hearing is scheduled. The complainant will be fully informed of this process and what s/he is expected to do next. A hearing is a formal process with lawyers for the College (who will prosecute the charges), lawyers for the physician, a court reporter, sworn witnesses, examination and cross-examination. The hearing is usually held at the College offices before a committee of four people consisting of two physicians, a public representative, and a senior lawyer. The physicians and public members are current or previous members of the College Board. This committee decides whether or not the charges are proven. With some exceptions related to confidentiality and protection of the patients involved, hearings are open to the public.

If the charges are proven, the physician will receive a penalty which is determined by the committee. This penalty may involve a reprimand, practice limitations, a fine, suspension, or erasure from the register as a physician.

In situations where the physician agrees that the formal charges are valid and is prepared to admit fault, the matter may be resolved by a "consent agreement" with an agreed-to statement of fact, admissions, and an agreed-to penalty. In such situations a hearing, as outlined above, is not required and the matter is settled by this alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method.

Is the complaints process confidential?

The College does not reveal the names of any complainant, except to the physician(s) involved. While results and findings of complaints are often published as examples to remind physicians about standards of conduct and behaviour, an individual's name is never released. A physician's name is only revealed if formal disciplinary action is taken.

Can a patient file a complaint with the College about medical office staff?

The College does accept complaints from patients about medical office staff, but refers the adjudication of the complaint to the physician. Since physicians have assigned and entrusted their staff with specific patient responsibilities, the College does expect a physician to assume appropriate accountability for his/her staff's actions and/or behaviour.

What if I am not satisfied with the College's decision?

Under the Health Professions Act, the provincial government has established the Health Professions Review Board (HPRB). The HPRB is an independent tribunal tasked with reviewing the thoroughness of the College's investigation and the reasonableness of the decision.

Patients who are dissatisfied with the College’s review and adjudication of their complaint have the right to submit the matter to the HPRB for further evaluation and review of the College’s action and conclusions within 30 days of receipt of the College's adjudication letter.

Health Professions Review Board
Suite 900, 747 Fort Street
Victoria BC  V8W 2E9

Telephone: 250-953-4956
Facsimile: 250-953-3195

Toll-free telephone number (within BC): 1-888-953-4986

Mailing address:
PO Box 9429 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC  V8W 9V1