File a Complaint

All physicians and surgeons who are licensed to practise in British Columbia are registrants of the College. Members of the public can raise issues of concern about a College registrant through our complaints process.

Are you wondering if you should submit a complaint?

Submitting a complaint with the College can lead to better health and well-being for all patients. We encourage people to share their concerns about a registrant’s professionalism or clinical competence if they think there is a risk to the public.

The College’s complaints process is legislated by the Health Professions Act. Here is information on what complaints the College can investigate and what to expect in the process.

What to expect

Here are some things people can expect when they submit a complaint with the College. 

  • It is the beginning of a regulatory and legal process.
  • The process takes place primarily through written correspondence.
  • We are required to share all complaints with the registrant(s) involved.
  • The registrant(s) involved must provide a written response to the College.

Who we can investigate

As the regulator of BC’s physicians and surgeons, we can investigate:

  • all physicians and surgeons licensed with the College
  • an employee who works for a College registrant in an office-based practice or medical clinic 

We cannot investigate the performance of any other regulated health-care professional. 

A complaint may involve team-based care provided at a hospital or other community facility. In these cases we recommend consulting the Patient Care Quality Office in a regional health authority.

What we can do

Registrants being investigated have to provide a response and relevant medical records. We review their care and conduct to determine if they met the College’s practice standards and guidelines

We strive to be fair and reasonable with our decision-making process. A complaint may sometimes reveal issues that need to be addressed. In such cases, we have a range of remedial and disciplinary measures to help the registrant improve their practice. 

What we cannot do

We regulate the practice of medicine under provincial law, and as such, cannot do the following:

  • direct the clinical care of an individual patient
  • arrange for the transfer of care to a different registrant
  • compel a registrant to apologize
  • provide or insist on financial compensation
  • overrule opinions given in independent medical examinations (e.g. independent medical examinations for WorkSafeBC, ICBC or other matters)
  • withhold the identity of a complainant who wishes to remain anonymous

Complaints process

Most complaints submitted to the College deal with a registrant’s clinical decision-making or the way a patient has been treated. Below is a guide on how our process works for clinical care and conduct complaints.

How to file a complaint

Members of the public and health-care professionals can make a complaint against a College registrant. Here are some things to note when filing a complaint. 

  • Complaints must be submitted in writing. 
  • We will need the patient’s date of birth and personal health number if possible.
  • Complaints must include the signature of the person filing the complaint.
  • If a complaint is submitted on an adult patient’s behalf, the patient must provide signed consent through the College’s Authorization for Representation form. 
  • Relevant documentation such as a power of attorney or executor statement must be provided if a patient is unable to provide consent. 
  • We will accommodate anyone who is physically unable to communicate with us in writing.

We will investigate complaints submitted without a patient’s consent if it falls under our mandate to protect the public. However, the details and outcomes of these investigations will not be provided to the person filing the complaint. This is to protect the patient’s confidential health information. 

Once we receive your complaint, we will send you a letter by mail, explaining the next steps.

How a complaint is investigated

A team of people provide input during an investigation. This includes physicians, surgeons and subject matter experts who have a wide range of skills, experiences and perspectives.

Our staff will perform a preliminary review to determine the next steps once a complaint is received. This includes:

  • sending a copy of the complaint to the registrant being investigated;
  • asking the registrant being investigated for a written response and a copy of relevant medical records;
  • gathering more information from other physicians and surgeons involved, if appropriate; and
  • sending the registrant’s response to the person filing the complaint, who at this point may submit additional information.

It takes time to collect all the necessary information for a thorough, transparent, and fair review. We always try to conclude complaints in a reasonable time frame. Some complaints may take longer than others depending on individual circumstances. All parties involved will be notified if this is the case.

How an outcome is determined

College staff and medical consultants review all the materials submitted in a complaint. They will then draft a preliminary decision letter. These decision letters are reviewed by a panel of the Inquiry Committee. The Inquiry Committee provides public and professional oversight. Once a decision letter is reviewed it is sent to the complainant(s) and registrant(s) involved.   

Other panels of the Inquiry Committee review and decide upon more complex cases. All Inquiry Committee panels include members of the public, family physicians, surgeons and other specialists.

A registrant may be criticized if their conduct fell short of expectations. 

  • Criticism may relate to an issue raised by the person filing the complaint.
  • Criticism may relate to different concerns that College staff and consultants independently identified during the investigation.
  • Formal criticism may not always be warranted, even if a registrant falls short of expectations. We will provide a registrant guidance to improve their practice if criticism isn’t warranted.

What to expect after an investigation

Our goal is to protect the health and safety of patients. If a registrant’s conduct warrants criticism, we help a registrant improve their practice. The goal is to help prevent a similar circumstance from happening again. 

In some cases, the correction and guidance included in the decision letter is considered sufficient. In other cases, we may take some of the following actions:

  • interview the registrant to discuss the matter in more detail
  • request the registrant take certain educational courses
  • sign binding commitments in regard to the registrant’s future practice
  • hand out a formal reprimand to a registrant
  • place a registrant’s practice under certain restrictions
  • cite a registrant for their conduct and require them to attend a public hearing
  • in extreme circumstances, take away a registrant’s licence

A complaint may prompt the Inquiry Committee to launch a more general investigation into a registrant’s practice. This will result in a more comprehensive review. Whatever the outcome of a complaint, a copy of the decision is placed on the registrant’s permanent record at the College.

How to appeal a decision

All of our remedial and disciplinary activities are subject to what is allowed under the Health Professions Act. The Health Professions Review Board (HPRB) can independently review certain decisions made by health profession regulatory colleges. A person filing a complaint can apply for a HPRB review if they believe the investigation was inadequate or if the decision was not reasonable.