Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I file a complaint?
When submitting your complaint by email, please submit complaint directly to us as an email or attachments.
Please do not:
- Send your complaint through online storage services (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.)
- Send using a secure email service that require login credentials.
- Send pictures of your filled out complaint form. Often pictures of complaint forms are not formatted correctly and can be difficult to read. Please type your complaints as an email message. If you have other pictures, please email them as attachments.
- Use uncommon file formats for saving your complaint. We can access complaints saved as the file type of PDF or Microsoft Word. We may not be able to open other file types.
- Whom may I file a complaint against?
See the list of health professions regulated by our department.
- What details shall I put in the complaint?
- The full name and address of the person you are filing a complaint against
- Dates of client-patient relationship: List the date the client-patient relationship began and the date that it ended.
- Dates of incidents: List each date on which the incident occurred.
- Details of complaint: Describe your complaint, including the reasons for your complaint. Specify dates, places, times, and any other information you feel is important. It is okay if you do not have specifics but please give as much information as you can. It is helpful if you can note how you are able to recall the date or day of the week. Please identify any witnesses or observers to the incident described. If possible, include the name, address and phone number of each witness or observer. You may attach more pages if necessary. Please number and initial all pages of your complaint in the lower right hand corner.
- Your contact information, if you wish to receive follow up.
- Who are the decision makers?
The legislature authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Health and 14 boards and commissions to discipline healthcare providers that violate the law. The boards work with the department to develop processes for receiving, investigating and determining appropriate discipline for violations. Action can only be taken against providers that are required to be licensed, certified or registered with the department.
- What is the process?
When we receive a complaint regarding a healthcare provider, we review it to decide if the incident or event is a violation of the law and if we have legal authority to take action. If these two conditions are not met, the file is closed below threshold. Below threshold means the complaint did not meet the legal requirements for us to investigate. If we determine the allegation might be a violation, and there is legal authority to take action, we conduct an investigation.
We manage each case throughout the disciplinary process. We work with investigators, staff attorneys, and the Office of the Attorney General to identify violations and evaluate evidence. If the evidence does not support the complaint then the complaint is closed. If violations are found, the case is presented to a panel of members from the department, board or commission for approval to take action.
Procedures for the complaint and disciplinary process are described in the Administrative Procedure Act under 34 RCW.
The disciplinary actions the may be taken against a healthcare provider are described in the Uniform Disciplinary Act under RCW 18.130.160. Actions include but are not limited to fines, counseling, re-training, practice limitations or suspension from practice. Both the department and the boards and commissions are responsible to ensure the public is protected and to rehabilitate the provider.
Disciplinary files are public records. However, public record law provides that some records will not be released. For example, medical records and the names of patients will be removed before other documents are released.
- What do I need to know if I'm thinking about submitting a complaint?
Our state has some of the finest healthcare providers in the United States. However, if you believe that the actions of a provider were inappropriate or may have caused mental or physical harm to you or someone else, you should consider filing a complaint.
Our mission is to protect the people of Washington. Although we have the responsibility to take corrective action against a healthcare provider, it is outside our authority to impose criminal or civil penalties. Our disciplinary actions focus on preventing further problems with a provider and assuring safe, competent care for the patients. By reporting potential violations you can play an important role in protecting the people of Washington.
The department may not be able to help you with many common complaints unrelated to patient safety. Such as, scheduling problems, personality conflicts or disputes over bills or insurance. We generally investigate reports involving fees or insurance claims only when there appears to be fraud involved.
If you're a licensed healthcare provider, it's important for you to know that some regulated health professionals are required by law to report information that another healthcare provider may be incompetent, guilty of unprofessional conduct or impaired and unable to practice safely. In circumstances such as this, the department and boards and commissions may take disciplinary action against a healthcare provider for failing to report any potential violation of the laws that govern the profession.
- What is a violation?
Violations for healthcare providers include, but are not limited to, the following:
- What are examples of things the department, boards and commissions cannot do?
- Provide legal advice or aid to you. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Whistleblower exemption
- Help you bring a lawsuit against a healthcare provider
- Advice about a lawsuit brought against you by a healthcare provider
- Recommending a lawyer
- Discussing the merits of your complaint before you file it. The disciplining authority must review your complaint to decide its merits.
- Handle a fee dispute between you and your healthcare provider.
- Discipline healthcare providers not required to be regulated by the department.
- Get money back you feel is owed to you.
- Resolve questions about disability compensation or insurance reimbursement.
- Resolve issues involving rudeness by a healthcare provider or their staff.
- Resolve issues involving typing errors, miscommunications, or a mistake of facts.
- Provide legal advice or aid to you. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Whom do I contact if I disagree with my billing statement?
Contact the healthcare provider. The department, boards, and commissions do not handle billing disputes unless fraud appears to be involved.
You may want to contact the Attorney General's Office or the Better Business Bureau
800 Fifth Ave., Suite 2000
Seattle, WA 98104
- My healthcare provider is rude. Is there anything I can do about it?
Rudeness is not a violation of the law. However, actions that mislead, harm, or are of a sexual nature are considered to be unprofessional conduct and should be reported to the department. If you are simply not comfortable with your provider, another option may be to find one more suitable for you.
- Do I have to be the patient in order to file a complaint?
Anyone who has knowledge of a healthcare provider's unprofessional conduct may file a report.
- What part will I play after filing a complaint?
Additional information may be asked of you, either by letter or interview. You may be asked to sign a release form to waive your right to confidentiality for investigation of your complaint. You may be required to testify if a formal hearing is necessary.
- How long will it take to resolve my complaint?
The time will vary depending on the nature of the complaint and the complexity of the case. Patience is needed when dealing with the many legal and health issues involved. Cases may take as little as a few weeks or, in some cases, as long as two years.
- Can I be sued for filing a report?
No. A person who, in good faith, files a compliant or reports unprofessional conduct is immune from suit in any civil action related to the filing or contents of the complaint.
- Is there a time limit to file a complaint?
No. There is no statutory time limit in which to file a complaint; however, it's possible that a case cannot be acted upon because the information needed to make a decision is no longer available. It's best to report as soon as possible so the records can be obtained and potential witnesses can be located. It's a good idea to make a written note of the circumstances soon after the experience so facts are not forgotten. When submitting a complaint, be as specific as you can with the facts and dates.
- Shall I file a malpractice suit or just report a healthcare provider?
This is a decision that you must make. You may seek legal advice and file a report with the department at the same time.
- May I make a complaint without giving my name?
Complainants who file a complaint anonymously will not receive any follow-up from the department regarding the status of the complaint they filed.
- If I file a complaint against a healthcare provider and it results in disciplinary action, what kind of compensation can I get from the board, commission, department or the individual?
Under some circumstances, we can require a healthcare provider to refund fees collected from the consumer. However, we don't have jurisdiction in matters of malpractice compensation. That must be pursued in civil court.
- Are there any protections for whistleblowers?
You may qualify as a whistleblower or for confidentiality as a whistleblower under the provisions of RCW 43.70.075.
- Can the board send a healthcare provider to jail?
No. Neither the department or the boards or commissions have the authority to invoke or enforce criminal or civil penalties. Authority is limited to taking corrective action against a healthcare provider's credential to prevent patient harm.
- My healthcare provider told me they don't want me as a patient anymore. Can they do that?
If you don't have an acute problem where a lack of immediate follow-up would be dangerous to your health, healthcare providers may end the relationship. The one exception is that a hospital may not deny anyone access to emergency care. The hospital must, at a minimum, assess everyone who comes to the emergency department and if it can't provide the necessary care itself, must transport the patient to a hospital that can give the needed care.
- What happens if the healthcare provider or facility doesn't respond to the Department of Health about my complaint?
Failing to cooperate with an investigation is a violation of the law. The department, boards and commissions can discipline them for not responding.
- Can a healthcare provider refuse to give me copies of my medical records because of an outstanding balance?
A provider may charge a copying fee before the records are released, but cannot withhold records because of an outstanding balance on your account.
- How do I find out how my complaint is progressing?
Details of an ongoing investigation will not be given, but you can call to receive an update on the general status of your complaint. We have set limits as to how long a complaint can take in each step of the disciplinary process. However, please remember that due to the legal and medical issues involved, the disciplinary process can be lengthy so we appreciate your patience.
- Who do I contact if I have a complaint about my health insurance company?
Contact the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner
P.O. Box 40255
Olympia, WA 98504 Phone: 800-562-6900
- How can I obtain copies of files regarding reports or disciplinary action from the department?
Anyone may request a copy of a file. To do so, you may submit a request in writing to the Public Disclosure Unit. For records of 50 pages or more, we charge 15 cents per page. The file will be reviewed and any exempt information will be redacted or withheld pursuant to the Public Records Act under Chapter 42.56 RCW.
Public Disclosure Unit
P.O. Box 47865
Olympia, WA 98504