Lack of patient-centeredness draws majority of patient complaints

An analysis of complaints lodged against a major academic medical center’s radiology department has revealed that a failure to deliver patient-centered care was at the core of a majority of the gripes, according to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The results suggested that providers wishing to curb complaints about imaging should focus on eliminating delays and improving staff interaction with patients, wrote Hani Abujudeh, MD, MBA, and colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.

The authors retrospectively evaluated all radiology-related patient complaints at MGH from April 1999 to December 2010 and classified them into categories, including: failure to provide patient-centered care, medical complications, complaints against radiology staff and complaints regarding radiologic quality benchmarks for safety, systems and professionalism.

Abujudeh and colleagues identified 153 radiology-related complaints. More than 60 percent described a failure to provide patient-centered care. Delays accounted for 20.2 percent of complaints, while complaints concerning radiology staff members made up nearly half of the total.

More than one quarter of the complaints involved physical discomfort and 10.5 percent were a combination of both physical discomfort and lack of patient-centered care. For complaints related to a radiologic quality benchmark, 44.5 were associated with operational systems, 24.2 percent with safety and 17 percent with professionalism.

“The majority of complaints concerning operational systems issues were secondary to delays, including unanticipated waiting for a radiologic examination to be performed (invasive or noninvasive), waiting for an appointment for a radiologic examination, or waiting for test results,” wrote the authors. “Long waiting times play a major role in patients' dissatisfaction in radiology.”

More than two-thirds of the complaints stemmed from interventional procedures, which Abujudeh and colleagues chalked up to the extensive physician-patient interaction in that setting. “Our study suggests that patients have high expectations regarding radiologists' role in their care.”

While the focus of the studies was on identifying areas for improvement, the results indicated that the overall rate of complaints regarding MGH radiology was low at 0.238 per 10,000 radiologic procedures. “Finally, satisfactory resolution of complaints was obtained in the large majority of complaints, which was most commonly achieved through clarification and, in some cases, apologies. Our results suggest the importance of educating patients about technical factors and complex issues that influence the performance of radiologic examinations.”