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Washington bill reforms doctor complaint process

March 8, 2011

Washington State Bill Would Create More Transparency
When Patients File Complaints Against Healthcare Workers

HB 1493 Approved By House, Now Under Consideration In The Senate

OLYMPIA, WA – Patients who file complaints against doctors and other healthcare providers would be able to find out more information about the status of their complaints and how they are handled under a bill now being debated by state lawmakers. HB 1493 would improve the process for holding doctors and other healthcare workers accountable for unprofessional conduct and unsafe care, according to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. The bill was approved by a 68 to 29 vote in the House last week and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
“Patients who have been harmed by unsafe or unprofessional medical care need to know that their complaints are being taken seriously,” said Suzanne Henry, policy analyst for Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project (www.safepatientproject.org). “This legislation gives them a better opportunity to be heard and will improve the process for evaluating patient complaints. Ultimately, that will help hold healthcare workers accountable when they fail to maintain high standards for patient care.”
Healthcare workers are subject to disciplinary action under the Uniform Disciplinary Act (UDA). The UDA gives the Department of Health and various state medical boards and commissions the authority to take action against a healthcare worker for a variety of reasons, including unprofessional conduct, practicing without a license, and unsafe care.
Under the proposed bill, patients who file complaints will have the opportunity to submit an impact statement detailing how they were affected by the doctor’s or healthcare worker’s conduct. The bill requires the agency handling the complaint to respond promptly to any inquiries regarding the status of the case. The person who filed the complaint and the person who is the subject of the complaint may request a complete copy of the file on the matter with some exceptions of confidential information.
Once a complaint has been reviewed, the disciplining body must inform the person who filed it of the results of its evaluation. If the complaint is settled before an impact statement has been filed, the patient must be given the chance to submit one and make a request for reconsideration. The doctor or healthcare worker will be allowed to respond to the amended complaint. Once the matter has been fully considered, the agency must issue a written report that provides an explanation for its decision.
Michael McCauley – 415-431-6747, ext 126, mccami@consumer.org