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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : March 2005
psa Tis one of the most stressful situations to confront any pharmacist—an angry patient determined to make a complaint about the professional service they have received. While none of us would choose to be involved in such an incident, many will be required to respond to one at some point in our careers. For this reason all phar- macists should be prepared for such inci- dents and have an appropriate com- plaints-handling policy. It is important to develop such policies for reasons beyond the immediate, and obvious, legal implications. Such policies will play an increasingly important role in meeting regulatory obligations being imposed by pharmacy registering author- ities across Australia. To protect the interests of the public, Australian professional registration bodies are moving towards enforcing profes- sional competency as a basis for re-regis- tration. With the PSA’s Continuing Pro- fessional Development and Practice Improvement (CPD and PI) program, the Society has been at the forefront of devel- oping the tools to enable the pharmacy profession to meet such obligations. The need to implement suitable policies to deal with complaints falls squarely into the second stream (Practice Improve- ment) which is about the quality assur- ance or improvement of the systems through which a service is delivered. Towards the end of last year the Aus- tralian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care issued the Better Practice Guide- lines on Complaints Management for Health Care Systems. Many of its principles are appli- cable to pharmacy so it’s a good place to start for pharmacists looking to improve their complaints-handling procedures. Those pharmacies looking to obtain QCPP accreditation should note that there is a requirement to have a procedure to record and resolve customer complaints. The Council has developed an addi- tional resource—the Complaints Manage- ment Handbook—for those wanting to from the president Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Brian Grogan Turn complaints into a positive experience I implement the practises described in the Guidelines. Instead of viewing complaints as an entirely negative experience, pharmacists —and all healthcare workers—are encouraged to use them as a unique source of information about the needs of consumers and the quality of care. Open discussion of consumers’ con- cerns and complaints helps pharmacists to understand potential problems, and to identify ways to improve their professional services. According to the Council, the Guidelines also aim to address the need for cultural change within the healthcare sector in relation to complaints. It says healthcare professionals have tended to dismiss com- plaints as an unjustified or unwelcome challenge to their professional compe- tence and commitment. Promoting posi- tive attitudes to consumer feedback about the quality of care, including complaints, is therefore crucial. There is evidence that open disclosure and a prompt apology prevents legal action in the vast majority of cases. The Council says lack of proper acknowledgment and poor follow-up are among the most common areas of dissat- isfaction with complaints processes. The outcomes people most commonly seek when complaining to healthcare services include an explanation, an apology, a desire for the healthcare provider to show they care, to be given reassurance and sympathy, and to prevent the same thing happening to other people. Of course, many pharmacists worry about the possible legal implications of issuing apologies, but a proper complaints procedure should set out exactly what action should be taken. There is evidence that open disclosure and a prompt apol- 152 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.86 MARCH 2005 ogy prevents legal action in the vast majority of cases. The University of Tas- mania’s Professor Gregory Peterson has researched the issues involved in great detail and he has written: ‘Fear of legal reprisals or thoughts that a mistake could be effectively concealed from the patient cannot justify failing to inform the patient of an error and may put the practitioner in greater legal peril. Healthcare practitioners who attempt to hide errors from patients violate the patient’s autonomy and risk implicating their profession as one that cannot be trusted.’1 The PSA’s Code of Professional Con- duct incorporates principles stating that the primary concern of the pharmacist must be the health and well being of both clients and the community. A pharmacist must, at all times, uphold the reputation of the profession and adhere to the rele- vant legislation (including an obligation to act with honesty and integrity, having due regard for standards of behaviour accepted within the profession and rea- sonably expected by the community and other health professionals). It’s clear that the community is increasingly expecting more open disclosure and dispute-resolu- tion mechanisms. The complaints-management Guidelines cover broad principles including: promot- ing a commitment to consumers and quality improvement; accessibility; responsiveness; effective assessment; appropriate resolution; gathering and using information; and making improve- ments. I would advise pharmacists who are developing a complaints-handling proce- dure to make use of the Better Practice Guidelines on Complaints Management for Health Care Systems and the accompanying Complaints Management Handbook. They are available on the Internet at www.safety andquality.org.au or telephone the Safety and Quality Council on (02) 6289 4244. 1. Australian Pharmacist 2003; 22: 204–9. ¦