BACKGROUND - Patient complaints are associated with increased malpractice risk but it is unclear if complaints might be associated with medical complications. The purpose of this study was to determine whether an association exists between patient complaints and surgical complications.
METHODS - A retrospective analysis of 16,713 surgical admissions was conducted over a 54 month period at a single academic medical center. Surgical complications were identified using administrative data. The primary outcome measure was unsolicited patient complaints.
RESULTS - During the study period 0.9% of surgical admissions were associated with a patient complaint. 19% of admissions associated with a patient complaint included a postoperative complication compared with 12.5% of admissions without a patient complaint (p = 0.01). After adjusting for surgical specialty, co-morbid illnesses and length of stay, admissions with complications had an odds ratio of 1.74 (95% confidence interval 1.01 to 2.98) of being associated with a complaint compared with admissions without complications.
CONCLUSIONS - Admissions with surgical complications are more likely to be associated with a complaint than surgical admissions without complications. Further research is necessary to determine if patient complaints might serve as markers for poor clinical outcomes.