Feedback and complaints – How and why you should share your experiences

Feedback is a good way of gaining information on areas of strength and areas that need to be improved. In healthcare, feedback can be a key way to improve patient safety and ensure ongoing quality improvement.

Whether your experience was good or bad, sharing your feedback could help raise awareness and lead to improvements.

But we know giving feedback or making a complaint isn’t always easy. In late 2019 we were commissioned by the Department of Health to support them in seeking consumer input about the process of making a complaint and giving feedback. Many people commented on how difficult it can be to find out how to give feedback or make a complaint.

Many people also responded that a prominent reason for not giving feedback was simply that they were not asked, saying there was an opportunity to increase ways to give feedback “in the moment”. People noted that in hospitality, you are asked for feedback at various stages in the process, and that this gave people an opportunity to address any issues when they arise. Ways of making it simpler to give feedback were discussed, including looking at how to use technology to encourage feedback from a wide range of people – for example, kiosks where people can quickly note 😊 or ☹ could help a service get a quick idea of how it’s doing, as well as making it easier for consumers for whom English may not be a first language to give feedback. We really encourage consumers to give feedback even when it’s not asked for, because feedback is the backbone of safety and quality improvements.

You can also keep an eye out for feedback forms that you may be given if you go to hospital (they may be in a folder near the bed) and speak to the person providing your care about how you can give feedback. By taking a look at our self-advocacy resources you can prepare for your doctor’s visit or hospital stay, which may help you feel more confident to ask questions and provide feedback.

You can give feedback verbally, in writing, by speaking directly to health service staff, to consumer or patient liaison staff, to Aboriginal Liaison Officers, or if given a follow up call after discharge from hospital. Many people commented that making a complaint, or sharing some positive feedback can feel like an extra thing to do after you’ve finished at a health service. One way that many people felt was a relatively easy way to give feedback was via Care Opinion Australia (previously known as Patient Opinion – see below).

While many people highlighted barriers to giving feedback that were discussed in these sessions, in the workshop with Aboriginal people, many people described how their experience of racism in the health system impacted on the likelihood and way they give feedback or make a complaint. We heard strongly there is much that needs to be done to ensure feedback mechanisms are accessible and culturally safe for Aboriginal people and will continue to advocate for this.

Many people spoke of how valuable it can be for people to have access to independent support to make complaints to health services. Health Consumers’ Council provides an individual advocacy service, as do a number of organisations like People With disability WA and Carers WA, but we know there are more people who could benefit from this support than are able to access it currently. Again, increasing access to advocacy support is something we will continue to argue for.

We’ve gathered some resources to help guide you on where and how you can give feedback. You can also call us on 9221 3422 or 1800 620 780 (country freecall) for advice on the best way to make a complaint, or for support in making a complaint.

Care Opinion Australia

Care Opinion Australia, previously known as Patient Opinion Australia, is an independent online platform for people to provide feedback on services.

At anyone can share their stories about their experience of care. The site covers health and aged care, and community services in Australia, giving service users, their families and carers the opportunity to publish their personal experiences, good or bad, of the care system.

Care Opinion works so well because it gives you a public, but anonymous, way to voice your experience about the services you use. The right people at the service or provider will see your experience and have the chance to respond.

Care Opinion is safe, confidential and independent of services and authorities. Additionally, reading the stories that other people share on Care Opinion may help you choose the best care providers.

If you are unable to write your story on the website, you can speak to Care Opinion in confidence on the phone by calling 1300 662 996 (mobiles may pay charges).

“A couple of years ago my daughter was admitted to hospital. Unfortunately there were some issues that arose during her stay and treatment, systemic issues that meant I didn’t really know who to address the feedback to. I had known about Patient Opinion [now called Care Opinion], that her experience would be public and that the hospital would be required to respond publicly. It seemed like a good way of raising the issues that we had, and it was. We received responses from the EDs of the services involved, which meant that the people at the top were aware of what had happened and were willing to make changes. Patient Opinion gave us the chance to tell our story, for it to be read by people who have the power to make changes and for us to feel like we were heard.”

How to make a complaint

Feedback can be a powerful way of improving the health system for yourself and others, however we recognise it can sometimes be a difficult or emotional path to travel. Health Consumers’ Council can support you through this process.

You can find resources to help you write a complaint to a hospital and apply for your medical resources on our Useful Links for Self Advocacy page.

The first step in making a complaint is to be clear about what the problem is and what exactly you are making the complaint about. This is sometimes called identifying the key issue.

You may then want to call the health service to ask about their complaint process (how you would go about making a complaint). Avoid going into details of the complaint unless you are sure the person you are speaking to is the one who receives complaints.

In some cases, we recommend making your complaint in writing. That way, someone becomes responsible for writing back to you, and your complaint is more likely to find its way to the right person or place for action. Always phone the service first to find out the name and title of the person you should write to. When submitting a complaint in writing, be firm but polite and keep your message to the point. If you do not have access to a computer, do not be put off – handwritten letters are fine.

Most, if not all, complaint agencies will allow you to have an advocate (someone who can act on your behalf) to help you put your complaint into writing if you are not confident about doing so yourself.

Health Consumers’ Council provides an advocacy service to assist health consumers in making complaints. We are an independent consumer advocate organisation and are able to support you through the process.


*This article was originally published in Health Matters