How to File a Complaint About Your Doctor

Ensuring Your Grievance Is Heard and Acted Upon

Doctors, like anyone, are human and can make mistakes. Sometimes your doctor's practices may be inappropriate or unethical. In other cases, you may feel they have not received quality care, been mistreated, or been put at risk by your doctor.

When your doctor is to blame for something wrong that happened to you, there are avenues you can take to file a complaint. As you begin this process, it is important that you figure out who to speak with and how to do it.

Where to Lodge a Complaint

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The first step is to assess who you should complain to. In some instances, you can complain directly to your doctor. Other times, you may need to talk to the hospital administrator or the state licensing board. It depends on the problem, and how convinced you are that it was intentional.

You may want to file a grievance in any of the following situations:

  • If you like your doctor overall but have a few complaints, it may make sense to provide feedback directly to your doctor, along with your expectations. For example, if your doctor has a great bedside manner but doesn't return phone messages, you are more likely to get the results you want by explaining your concerns to your doctor.
  • If you noticed an error in your medical record, but your medical care has been good, you should bring it up to the doctor and office staff. They are highly likely to correct it to your satisfaction.
  • If you feel that were insulted by your doctor, then you might be more comfortable talking to someone else on the team, such as your nurse, the physician assistant, or another doctor. Sometimes another person can look at things objectively and can guide your doctor to avoid repeating this problem—with you and with other patients. If the situation bothered you so much that you don't want to see that doctor again, be sure to tell the office staff why you won't be using that doctor's services again.
  • On the other hand, if the insult or behavior was directed at you because of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or religion, there are civil actions you can take, including contacting the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • If you suspect that there may have been illegal or unethical billing practices, including fraudulent billing, upcoding, and balance billing, then it is important to file an appeal with your health insurance company. If your appeal is denied, your doctor may have a patient advocate that can help you free of charge. If you still can't find a resolution, you can contact your State Insurance Commissioner.
  • If a medical error resulted in personal injury, hospitalization, disability, diminished quality of life, or death, then it is important to report the matter to the hospital or practice manager. You will need to do so with an attorney if you are seeking damages or planning to litigate.
  • If your doctor was sexually inappropriate or abusive in any way, you should contact the state medical board and file a police report.

How to Lodge a Complaint

Close-up of hands writing on laptop
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Many government and institutional authorities allow you to file a complaint directly on their websites. For others, you may need to write a letter to send in the mail. In either case, there are guidelines you should follow to improve your chances of getting a reply:

  • Keep your letter concise. The content should be no more than a few paragraphs, written in short sentences on a single page. Be specific about your complaints. If possible, use a bulleted list to punctuate your points.

Remain objective. Tell what happened as simply as possible rather than describing how you felt. The point is to highlight the inappropriate behavior, not your response to it.

  • Tell what action you would like to be taken. If you are reasonable in your expectations, then your complaint is more likely to be taken seriously. For example, if your doctor overbilled you, then suggesting that the doctor should be in jail can make you seem unreliable. If you ask for a refund, you are likely to receive it. Leave the legalities to the authorities.
  • Get help if you are unable to express yourself. If you have trouble communicating what happened or what you want, ask a family member to help or consider hiring a patient advocate experienced in these matters.

Finally, don't go in assuming that your efforts will be for naught.

According to the Office for Civil Rights, of the 223,135 HIPAA complaints received, 99% were investigated and resolved.

If your complaint is appropriate and appropriately directed, the chances are good that it will be heard.

A Word From Verywell

If you decide to complain about your doctor, you may not always get the satisfaction you want. But that does not mean that you shouldn't act.

Hospitals, practice managers, government offices, and state medical boards investigate and record complaints, even those that are not deemed actionable. These agencies know that not all complaints are fair to doctors. However, when multiple complaints are received and a pattern of behavior is established, serious action against the doctor will be taken.

By evidencing inappropriate, illegal, or harmful behavior, you can help protect others from experiencing the same problem you experienced.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How to File a Civil Rights Complaint. Updated December 4, 2019.

  2. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. How to appeal an insurance company decision.

  3. Patient Advocate Foundation. A Patient's Guide to Navigating the Insurance Appeals Process.

  4. Federation of State Medical Boards. Addressing Sexual Boundaries: Guidelines for State Medical Boards. Published May 2006.

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