What To Do When a Patient Complains About Another Doctor

When a patient complains about another doctor, be aware there may be more to the story.

Risk Management

What To Do When a Patient Complains About Another Doctor

Q: A patient told me his previous doctor is incompetent. What should I do?


A: In these situations, there is reason to be cautious. It is never a good idea to second-guess, disparage, criticize or “bad-mouth” another healthcare provider.

It’s not professional, and your criticism may fuel the patient’s dissatisfaction and perceptions of negligent treatment.

If the patient had thoughts of pursuing litigation, any validation from you may send the patient straight to an attorney’s office. Many a lawsuit has been born out of a subsequent treating doctor making an off-handed remark, such as “well, it’s a good thing you came to me when you did.”

Keep in mind you only are hearing one side of the story. The patient’s opinions may be based on a number of factors and could be very subjective. It’s a good idea to avoid being drawn into these types of discussions. If you find it necessary to respond, maintain a neutral position with comments like: “There are different ways a doctor can approach this problem,” or “I have a different practice style and philosophy than Dr. X.”

Just as in any relationship, incompatibility can occur in a doctor/patient relationship. Some patients are just not a good match for a particular treatment approach or communication style. In these cases, the patient can become dissatisfied and not comply with treatment, resulting in a less-than-optimal outcome.

Be aware that some patients who disparage other doctors may be predatory patients. These patients are often experts at appealing to a doctor’s ego by saying things like, “the last doctor I saw was hopeless, but I’ve heard great things about you.” Remember, you may be the next one on this patient's list of dissatisfied doctors!

It is always a good idea to obtain records from the prevous treating doctor, and perhaps some information may be gleaned from a review of the records. (A release from the patient to contact his or her prior doctor will be needed, and a strong objection will be an indication that there is more to the story than what you were told.)

At the same time, if there are repeated complaints from patients about substandard care from a particular healthcare provider, contact your practice attorney to determine if you are required to report the doctor.


The information in the NCMIC Learning Center is offered solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not offered as, nor does it represent, legal or professional advice. Neither does this information constitute a guideline, practice parameter or standard of care. You should not act or rely upon this information without seeking the advice of an attorney familiar with the specific legal requirements of the state(s) in which you practice. If there is a discrepancy between the site and an insurance policy you have with NCMIC, the policy will prevail.