Six vital steps for health-care professionals facing complaints

By Paul Russell, Contributor

Health-care professionals should consult legal counsel after a complaint has been filed against them, and deal with the matter expediently and with integrity, says Toronto health lawyer Brooke Shekter.

Complaints come through each profession’s Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee, says Shekter, associate with TTL Health Law.

She tells that people in this situation should follow six key steps.

Read the complaint thoroughly. “A response will be due by a specific date, so mark this deadline in your calendar and make sure you respond within the period,” Shekter says.

Get a lawyer. As a professional, it can be overwhelming to learn a complaint has been filed against you, she says.

“It’s vital to consult a lawyer who has experience with the process and can guide you through it," Shekter says.

Write down what happened. It’s important that those accused of wrongdoing have a detailed record of their version of the event, she says.

“There are always two sides to every one of these complaints, so give your account of the situation in a coherent manner to ensure your lawyer has something that's in your own words that explains what happened,” Shekter says.

Disclose any previous complaints. Even if those complaints were dismissed, your lawyer needs to know about them, she says.

“Your lawyer needs all the information, regardless of whether you think it’s relevant to the current complaint. It’s vital to share that information with your counsel,” Shekter says.

If the previous complaint is similar in nature, the professional governing body will be looking for a recurring pattern of behaviour, she says.

“The response to a one-off complaint is very different than the response to multiple complaints of the same variety,” Shekter says.

The consequences will also be different if the process works its way to the penalty stage, she says, which will influence your lawyer’s strategy when making a penalty submission.

Gather evidence. Any relevant documentation that supports your version of events needs to be assembled and given to your lawyer, Shekter says.

“Armed with that, your counsel can then decide how to best handle the complaint,” she says.

Shekter says fact-checking information in the complaint is part of this evidence gathering. She cites the example of a complainant alleging something happened on a certain date when your records show you didn’t see the person that day.

Be frank and honest. “Don’t only tell your lawyer the side of the story that makes you look good as they need to know everything in order to decide how to respond on your behalf,” Shekter says.

Withholding details will hurt you in the end as your credibility will be weakened in the eyes of the governing body once the information is revealed, she says.

“Good lawyers can do wonders with the truth, but they can't really do anything if they don't have full disclosure,” Shekter says. “Your lawyer is on your side, and they need to know the whole truth in order to be able to be in your corner.”

Once a health-care professional facing a complaint has completed these steps, she says, “it’s then up to the lawyer to do the heavy lifting on their behalf.”

To Read More Brooke Shekter Posts Click Here