A meta-ethnography of the facilitators and barriers to successful implementation of patient complaints processes in health-care settings

David Scott (Lead / Corresponding author), Suzanne M. Grant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
213 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: To synthesise experiences of the patient complaints process for patients and healthcare professionals to identify facilitators and barriers in the successful implementation of patient complaints processes. This will assist the development of cultural change programmes, enabling complaints managers to incorporate stakeholder perspectives into future care.

Design: Systematic literature search and meta-ethnography, comprising reciprocal syntheses of ‘patient’ and ‘professional’ qualitative studies, combined to form a ‘line-of-argument’ embodying both perspectives.
Data sources: MEDLINE, CINAHL and PsycINFO (database inception to April 2015) were searched to identify international literature in primary and secondary healthcare settings, involving qualitative data collection and analysis. Further studies were identified from hand-searching relevant journals, contacting authors, article reference lists and Google Scholar.

Results: 13 papers, reporting 9 studies from the UK, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand, were included in the synthesis. Facilitators and barriers to the successful implementation of patient complaints processes were identified across the perspectives of both patients and healthcare professionals. Patients sought to individualise the complaints process by targeting specific professionals who engaged in practices that undermined the identity of patients. In contrast, professionals obscured their own individualism through maintaining a collective identity and withholding personal judgement in relation to patient complaints.

Conclusions: Complainants recognised healthcare professionals as bearers of individual accountability for unsatisfactory care, in opposition to the stance of collective responsibility endorsed by professionals. Implementation of patient complaints processes must reconcile the need for individualised resolution, whilst striving to improve the future provision of healthcare through a collaborative approach between patients and professionals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-517
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Expectations
Issue number2
Early online date7 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • meta-ethnography
  • patient complaints
  • patient dissatisfaction
  • patient perspectives
  • professional perspectives
  • qualitative research synthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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