Other Places to Find Help

Many people do not know where to go and who to turn to when a health care problem arises. Remember there are other individuals like you.

Hospitals

Hospitals in Massachusetts want to hear about their quality of services. The names of departments which handle complaints have different names, such as: patient relations, customer service, patient advocacy, etc. These departments exist to assist you with concerns you have about your care. These staff listen to your problems and help you decide what action to take.

If your attempt to resolve the problem with your practitioner or hospital does not lead to a satisfactory resolution, then consider sending your complaint to an external organization that addresses health care quality. Below are organizations that help you prepare and follow through with health care quality complaints. Each organization has a different mission, so look for the one(s) that will be most helpful to you.

Filing a complaint against a hospital or other health care facility (not an individual clinician)

Advice about what to do AND support groups with others impacted by a poor medical experience

To file a complaint against a health care worker (doctor, nurse, social worker, etc.)

To file a complaint about the quality of care at a facility accredited by the Joint Commission on Health

To file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Help getting health insurance

Tips and Advice from a Malpractice Attorney

The information below is not legal advice. For some people, filing a lawsuit is important. They may have tried everything else and have not felt their side has been fairly heard. Below are suggestions about steps to take before considering a lawsuit, and, if those steps are not successful, information about how to prepare a legal case.

  1. Contact the health care practitioner or office and ask to set up an appointment to meet and discuss your care.

    Tell the receptionist that you “have a few questions” about your care. Be polite. Act like you are seeking help. Try not to get into the conversation on the telephone regarding the care provided. Offer to compensate/pay the provider for his/her time. If the health care provider will not set up an in-person appointment, request a telephone conference call for a specific time.

    If you are successful in setting up an appointment or conference call, have your questions well thought out. Write them down in advance. Ask another family member or friend to attend the appointment or be on the conference call with you. The family member/friend is there to listen and to help you make sense of what was said later. If you are going into the office to meet the health care provider let them know you are bringing a family member to “help you understand.”

    Know how much time you are being given for the meeting or call and make sure you ask the most important questions first. When you are at the meeting or on the phone call, look at your questions and make sure you have had your most important questions answered. Do not bring up all the small issues and/or problems with other health care providers.

  2. If your physician will not speak to you and the care was rendered in a hospital, contact the hospital.

    Call the hospital’s patient advocate and ask for a meeting at the hospital. Ask for the meeting because you have questions about your care. Be polite when asking for the meeting. If you are successful in getting a meeting, let the hospital’s representative know you are bringing a family member to “help you understand.” Find out the name and positions of people that will be at the meeting.

    You may need to write a letter outlining your concerns. If you intend to file a legal action be thoughtful in what you commit to writing.

    Be polite at the meeting. Do not use this time to make a scene about how you have been wronged. Before leaving the appointment look at your questions and take a few minutes to make sure you have had your questions answered.

  3. If you are not successful in speaking with your health care provider and/or the hospital you can call the Board of Registration in Medicine, or visit the Board’s website to file a complaint.

    If you were harmed by a physician you can fill out a complaint. The Board will investigate the incident and determine if it is within the Board’s jurisdiction. If the claim is judged to be within the jurisdiction of the Board it will contact the health care provider. A physician statement may be taken. The physician will “give evidence” about the occurrence. You will be able to access that information. The Web site contains information regarding how to file a complaint and how to assess information about health care providers.

  4. If the above steps are not helpful and you still want to sue, below are the steps to making a case:
    • Get a full copy of your medical records to enable an attorney to investigate your claim. You cannot be denied a copy of your medical records because of an outstanding bill or money owed. However, you can be charged for the copying and for the time it took a staff person to copy the record.
    • Make an appointment to meet with an attorney that specializes in health care malpractice cases. Malpractice means bad practice. If you want to consult with someone about finding a lawyer for your case, the Massachusetts Bar Association has a lawyer referral service.
    • Massachusetts Bar Association phone number: 866-627-7577 (free in Massachusetts). The local phone number in Boston is 617-654-0400. TTY for hearing impaired clients: 617-338-0585. Website: http://www.massbar.org/for-the-public/need-a-lawyer
    • Know that you will have to prove that substantial harm was caused by the conduct of the health care provider. This causally related harm known as “damages” will have to be outlined by an expert (a physician) in a written report. Your attorney will assist you in obtaining this report. Once the case is supported by an expert suit will be filed.
    • You will become the Plaintiff in a lawsuit and the health care provider will become the Defendant. The litigation process (the lawsuit) will take several years from the time of filing the Complaint until completion.
    • To prepare for court both sides will send the other written questions to answer. This process is called “discovery” because each side discovers what evidence the other has to support their position. Both sides will also ask the other party verbal questions under oath; these questions and answers will be recorded by a stenographer. This process is known as a deposition.
    • After discovery is completed, you and your attorney may decide to settle the case (both the Plaintiff and Defendant agree end the lawsuit with certain conditions). You need to know what you want from the lawsuit. Do you want monetary compensation for his/her harm or to help care for the injured person in the future? Do you want an explanation of what problems occurred in the delivery of care? Do you want an apology? Do you want stricter practices in the hospital so that this doesn’t happen to others? Do you want the health care practitioners fined or punished?
    • If you do not settle the case before trial, then the case will proceed to trial. Should the case proceed to trial the trial can last several weeks.
Information about Massachusetts hospitals | What is a Patient Advocate? | Writing Complaint Letters