Health Law Blog

Five Steps to Take When a Professional Conduct Complaint is Lodged Against You

October 1, 2020

As a self-regulated health professional, it can be a stressful experience to receive notice from your College that a patient has filed a complaint against you.

Every complaint is different, and the way in which a response is handled is based entirely on the facts of a given case. Nonetheless, there are a few preliminary steps that you, as the self-regulated health professional, should take at the beginning of the complaint process.

1.  Write down the deadline. In the letter that you receive from your College there will be a date by which you must respond to the complaint. Put the deadline in your calendar, and do not delay on the next step.

2.  Consult with legal counsel. Regardless of how small you may think the complaint is, it is advisable to consult with a health law lawyer prior to submitting a response. Contact a lawyer as soon as you receive the complaint; a poorly thought-out response, even to what you may consider to be a small complaint, can have a snowball effect. When you meet with your lawyer, be honest. Your lawyer needs to know everything in order to be in the best possible position to defend you. This includes disclosing to your lawyer if you have had any other complaints against you. A good lawyer can work wonders with the truth, but can do very little with lies.

3.  What’s your story? Read the complaint and write down your own version of events. If you decide to consult with legal counsel, provide your lawyer with your version of events in a frank, straightforward manner. If you decide to submit your response without legal counsel, your response must be professional, respectful, and accurate. When preparing your response, you should simply get to the point. A repetitive response is not effective.

4.  Gather materials. Put together your own brief of materials that bolsters your response. When making statements of fact in a response, it is important to provide documentation which will corroborate those facts. For example, perhaps the patient has alleged that an incident occurred on a specific date, but you have proof that you were elsewhere on that date, that kind of documentation is enormously helpful. Or, perhaps you documented the incident at the time it happened. This is why, apart from your professional obligations to keep proper records, diligent and accurate record keeping is so important in your practice.

5.  Remain a professional. As a self-regulated health professional, you have an obligation to act with honesty and integrity, and that also applies to how you respond to a complaint.


Several years ago I was fortunate enough to have been selected as a Tremayne-Lloyd Fellow here at Western Law. I used the funds to finish a book and to begin work on a new one. It dawned on me far too late that I had never thanked you for that splendid gift. The new book is to be published by Harvard Press in 2010. The TTL Fellowships provided ritual seed capital for this project, which required me to spend a good deal of time and money at The National Archive in Washington. Again, with many thanks.

R. W. Kostal Professor of Law and History

Tracey Tremayne-Lloyd Health Law