Like any profession, psychologists may find themselves facing complaints from their patients. Being the subject of such complaints can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. In this article, I provide a brief outline of the College of Psychologists of Ontario (“CPO”) complaint process and discuss what you should do should a complaint be brought against you.
1. The Investigatory Phase
Upon receiving a patient’s complaint, the first step taken by the CPO is to investigate the allegations. Under the Regulated Health Professions Act, the CPO is obliged to investigate complaints made to it against member psychologists unless they are “…frivolous, vexatious, made in bad faith, moot or otherwise an abuse of process”.
The CPO will inform you of any complaints made against you and will afford you with the opportunity to provide a written response. Generally, you will have 30 days after receiving the notice to make your submissions to the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (“ICRC”), which is responsible for handling investigations.
2. The Hearing Phase
After investigating a claim, the ICRC may refer the complaint against you to the Discipline Committee, which will then hold a discipline hearing. At the hearing, both you and the college will have the opportunity to present their case. A discipline hearing is a legal process, and it is advisable to retain legal counsel.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Discipline Committee will decide whether you have committed misconduct. If a finding of misconduct is made, the Discipline Committee may impose a penalty on you.
Even where the Discipline Committee has ruled against you, you may appeal the decision to the Divisional Court of Ontario within 30 days.
3. What Should You Do if You are the Subject of a Complaint?
Facing a professional complaint can be an incredibly stressful situation. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind if you find yourself the subject of an investigation by the CPO.
A. Review the Complaint Carefully
Upon receiving the complaint, carefully review its contents. Patients may file complaints for various reasons, including dissatisfaction with treatment outcomes, perceived ethical breaches, or interpersonal issues. Ensure you understand the nature of the complaint and its specific allegations before proceeding.
B. Do Not Contact the Complainant
Although it might be tempting to reach out and resolve matters yourself, it is crucial that you do not attempt to contact a complainant at any point during the investigation or hearing as doing so may undermine the integrity of the investigation and the rights of the complainants.
C. Hire a Lawyer
While it is by no means mandatory to retain a lawyer when faced with a patient complaint, legal counsel may provide you with an invaluable resource when navigating the complaints process. An experienced lawyer will be able to help you navigate the complaint process, help you draft your materials, and represent you before the Discipline Committee.
Facing a patient complaint as a psychologist can be overwhelming. Our firm can assist you in understanding and responding to the allegations, represent you before the Discipline Committee, and navigate the appeals process if needed. Don’t face this challenge alone – contact us for expert legal support tailored to your needs.