Incidence, Source, and Nature of Complaints Received in a Large, Urban Emergency Medical Services System



Objective: To document the incidence, source, and reasons for all complaints received by a large municipal emergency medical services (EMS) program.

Methods: A retrospective review of all complaints received during three consecutive years (1990–1992) in a centralized EMS system serving a large municipality (population 2 million). All cases were categorized by year, source, and nature of the complaint.

Results: In the three study years, EMS responded to 416, 892 incidents with nearly a half–million patient contacts. Concurrently, 371 complaints were received (incidence of 1. 12 per thousand); 132 in 1990, 129 in 1991, and 110 in 1992. Most complaints involved either: 1) allegations of “rude or unprofessional conduct” (34%), 2) “didn't take patient to the hospital” (19%), or 3) “problems with medical treatment” (13%). Only 1. 6% (n = 6) were response–time complaints. Other complaints included “lost/damaged property,” “taken to the wrong hospital,” “inappropriate billing,” and “poor driving habits.” The most common sources were patient's families (39%) and the patients themselves (30%). Only 7. 8% were from health care providers.

Conclusion: Reviews of complaints provide information regarding EMS system performance and reveal targets for quality improvement. For the EMS system examined, this study suggests a future training focus on interpersonal skills and heightened sensitivities, not only toward patients, but also toward bystanders and family members.