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Relationship between patient complaints and surgical complications
  1. H J Murff1,2,
  2. D J France1,3,
  3. J Blackford4,
  4. E L Grogan5,
  5. C Yu6,
  6. T Speroff1,3,
  7. J W Pichert7,
  8. G B Hickson7
  1. 1Division of General Internal Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA
  2. 2Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center and Center for Health Services Research, Department of Veterans Affairs, Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, Nashville, TN, USA
  3. 3Department of Anesthesiology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA
  4. 4Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA
  5. 5Department of Surgery, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA
  6. 6Department of Biostatistics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA
  7. 7Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr H J Murff
 Division of General Internal Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Department of Veterans Affairs, TVHS, GRECC/HSR,Nashville, TN 37212-2637, USA; Harvey.Murff{at}


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.

  • patient complaints
  • patient safety
  • surgical complications
  • quality of care

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  • Dr Murff is a VA Clinical Research Scholar, VA Clinical Research Center of Excellence. The funding organization had no role in the design and conduct of the study, in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data, and in the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests: The authors report no conflict of interests related to this study or the preparation of this manuscript.

  • This study was reviewed and approved by the Vanderbilt University Institutional Review Board.