In Quebec, the healthcare system is an extremely complex entity that includes countless institutions, organizations and resources. This imposing structure has so many ramifications that it is sometimes difficult to know where to turn when a problem arises.

In this article, our health lawyers explain the procedure to follow if you wish to file a complaint against a health and social services establishment or a resource, organization or person working within such an establishment.

Under what circumstances can you make a complaint about health and social services?

You have several rights as a user of the healthcare system. When you receive services provided by an institution in the health and social services network or a private health institution, these services should be:

  • Adapted to your health condition
  • Without undue interruption
  • Safe
  • Quality (including scientific, human and social aspects)

As a user, you also have the right to:

  • Receive accurate information about your health status and the treatments you may receive
  • Know all the services you have access to and how to use them
  • Be treated with consideration and respect
  • Participate in decisions that affect you

If you believe that these rights have been violated, you also have the right to file a complaint.

Who can file a complaint about health and social services?

A user who is dissatisfied with the health care services they have received or who feels that their rights have been violated can file a complaint.

However, if the user is a child or a person unable to file a complaint themselves, a representative may file a complaint on their behalf. Therefore, the complaint can be made by:

  • A spouse
  • A guardian
  • A mandatary in case of incapacity
  • A parent
  • A tutor
  • A person who shows a particular interest in the user

Finally, if the user is deceased, the heirs or legal representative may also file a complaint.

It should be noted, however, that anyone who finds that a patient’s rights have not been respected by a healthcare institution may also file a complaint. However, this person must proceed differently and report directly to the Québec Ombudsman.

How to file a complaint

Have your rights been violated and you want to make a complaint? Please note that the person to whom you should make your complaint depends on the institution or the person who caused your problem.

File a complaint against a health or social services institution or related resource

In Quebec, health and social services institutions may have different names and acronyms depending on their vocation:

  • CH (Hospital Centre)
  • CHSLD (Residential and long-term care centre)
  • CISSS (Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux)
  • CPEJ (Centre de protection de l’enfance et de la jeunesse)
  • CLSC (Local Community Service Centre);
  • RC (Rehabilitation Centre)

All these establishments can be the object of a complaint from a user whose rights have not been respected. The first step is to file a complaint with the complaints and service quality commissioner responsible for the establishment concerned. This complaint can be made verbally or in writing and will remain confidential.

After reviewing the events described in the complaint, the Commissioner will provide you with his or her findings no later than 45 days after receiving your complaint.

This is often referred to as the first recourse, since if you are not satisfied with the results, you can file a complaint with the Québec Ombudsman as a second recourse.

It is also important to mention that this procedure also applies to complaints concerning services or care offered in resources linked to the institutions listed above, such as:

  • Private residences for seniors
  • Residential resources for drug addiction or pathological gambling
  • Foster homes
  • Etc.

File a complaint against a physician, pharmacist or dentist who practices in a health and social services institution

If you want to file a complaint about a pharmacist, dentist or doctor who works in a hospital or clinic, the procedure is very similar.

As in the first case, your first recourse is to file your complaint with the complaints and service quality commissioner responsible for the institution concerned.

The commissioner will then transfer your complaint to the establishment’s medical examiner. The medical examiner will study the file and send you a letter containing his or her conclusions within 45 days after the complaint has been filed.

However, you have a second and different recourse if the conclusions of the medical examiner are not what you expected. You can ask that your complaint be reviewed by the establishment’s review committee.

What if your complaint is against a medical clinic or a private practice of doctors, dentists and other professionals?

In Quebec, many clinics or private practices are not linked to an establishment in the health and social services network. To make a complaint about one of these clinics or a professional who provides care there, you must contact the appropriate professional order:

When to contact a lawyer for health network users?

In general, if your rights as a user have not been respected, but the situation has not caused you harm, it is recommended that you follow the usual procedures explained above.

That being said, in the event that your rights have not been respected and damage has resulted (personal injury, moral injury or economic loss), you may need to consult a lawyer.

While the mission of professional orders such as the Collège des médecins is to protect the public, the mission of complaints and service quality commissioners is to ensure that the quality of care provided is improved, not to repair the harm suffered. This means that filing a complaint will not result in compensation for the harm done. However, a physician who has failed to comply with the code of ethics may be subject to disciplinary action.

Only by filing a civil lawsuit in the regular courts can you obtain compensation for a medical error or other violation of your rights as a patient.

If you are considering filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice, be sure to do so quickly, as there is a statute of limitations on filing.

MedLegal: Your best resource for health law

In conclusion, if you are dissatisfied with the services or care you received in a public or private health care facility, there are several ways to make your voice heard.

And if the events justifying the filing of a complaint have caused you harm, you should know that you also have recourse for compensation.

At MedLegal, our medical liability service is specifically designed for users who have been injured during an episode of care in a private or public healthcare facility. Our team of attorneys will guide you through the claims process, from the initial data collection to the eventual litigation of your case.

Contact us to discuss your situation with an attorney today.

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