Doctors are subject to more complaints than complementary practitioners, but chiropractors and acupuncturists are more likely to have serious findings made against them following a complaint, AHPRA figures show.
Analysis of registration board reports for 2014-15 shows wide disparities between the numbers and outcomes of complaints made against professionals working in 12 conventional and three complementary (CM) health professions overseen by the national regulator.
The number of complaints per 100 practitioners was highest for the medical board (4.4) compared to 1.5 for chiropractors, 0.7 in osteopathy and 0.5 for Chinese Medicine practitioners.
However when complaints were made against complementary practitioners they were more likely to lead to a severe outcome.
Just 0.6% complaints against doctors resulted in the suspension or cancellation of medical registration, in contrast to 17% of the cases against Chinese Medicine practitioners, 14% of osteopaths and 1.5% of chiropractors.
More than half of complaints (58%) against doctors were closed at the initial assessment (first) stage and the rate was similar for osteopaths (57%) but it was much lower for chiropractors (16%) and TCM practitioners (29%).
Following the lodgement of a complaint, no further action was taken in 60% of cases against conventional health practitioners – including doctors – compared to 37% of cases against CM practitioners.
The authors of the analysis, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, said the findings could be construed as showing that the new regulatory boards for complementary practitioners were dong their job correctly. The higher rates of serious outcomes might be explained by the complementary practitioner boards wanting to demonstrate that they are imposing strict responses, they suggested
“It is possible that the complementary medicine boards have a heightened awareness of the requirement to signal to outsiders such as medicine and government that the practitioners are qualified and legitimate,” wrote David Sibbritt and co-authors from the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney.
The higher rate of complaints made against medical practitioners might be explained by patients in conventional healthcare settings having higher expectations and/or clearer pathways for making complaints, they said.
“It may be that more serious or chronic diseases are dealt with in the conventional health system with the resulting complications and complexities associated with such care giving rise to complaints,” they added.
The authors concluded that the regulation system for complementary practitioners in Australia was working at least as well as regulation for conventional practitioners.
However, they said there was a need for better access to details of complaints, such as the numbers attributable to mandatory reporting between practitioner groups.