Ontario is taking steps toward appointing its first Patient Ombudsman to help people who have an unresolved complaint about their care at a hospital, long-term care home or Community Care Access Centre.
The vast majority of complaints about health care quality are resolved by current patient relations processes. There are, however, some complaints that are outside the scope of existing oversight bodies. To close any gaps that may continue to exist, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is establishing Ontario’s first Patient Ombudsman.
The Patient Ombudsman position was created in December 2014 as part of Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, which includes amendments to the Excellent Care for All Act, 2010.
The Role of the Patient Ombudsman
The Patient Ombudsman will help patients who have not had their concerns resolved through existing complaint mechanisms in a way that meets their needs.
As set out in the law, the Patient Ombudsman’s powers and responsibilities will be specifically tailored to the health care system. Once appointed, the Patient Ombudsman will:
- Respond to unresolved complaints from patients, residents, clients – as well as their caregivers – about their health care experience at a hospital, long-term care home or Community Care Access Centre
- Investigate a health sector organization on his or her own initiative
- Make recommendations to a health sector organization that is the subject of an investigation, following the conclusion of that investigation
- Report to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care on his or her activities and recommendations annually and provide reports to Local Health Integration Networks as appropriate
The Patient Ombudsman will not try to resolve or investigate complaints that are the responsibility of another person or body such as the Health Services Appeal and Review Board and the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Selection and Appointment
The Patient Ombudsman will be selected via a three-stage process:
- Stage 1 – Identify key skills, competencies and training of a Patient Ombudsman. This stage will include a public consultation.
- Stage 2 – Assess, select and recommend a Patient Ombudsman.
- Stage 3 – Finalize appointment of a Patient Ombudsman.
The term of the Patient Ombudsman’s appointment will be five years, with the possibility of reappointment for an additional five-year term. The government cannot shorten that term, except under exceptional circumstances.
Once appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the Patient Ombudsman will be housed in Health Quality Ontario. This relationship will allow the Patient Ombudsman to build on Health Quality Ontario’s expertise – as well as its responsibility for promoting quality improvement and enhancing patient relations across health care organizations.
All reports made by the Patient Ombudsman will be made available on Health Quality Ontario’s website.
Strengthening the Patient Relations Process in Public Hospitals
The introduction of the Patient Ombudsman is one of two government initiatives to strengthen complaints management processes in the health care system. The second initiative – new regulations under the Excellent Care for All Act will strengthen the patient relations process in public hospitals.
Once in force on September 1, 2015, new regulations under the Excellent Care for All Act will require public hospitals to:
- Uphold minimum standards for how patient complaints are managed
- Engage patients and their caregivers in designing, reviewing and maintaining the hospital’s complaint processes
- Have a staff member to oversee the patient-relations process; and present internal reports on patient relations to the hospital’s Quality Committee at least twice a year
- Engage patients and their caregivers when developing Quality Improvement Plans.
Health Quality Ontario and the Ontario Hospital Association will support the hospital sector in the adoption of practices that reflect these requirements. While these new regulations will only apply to public hospitals, other sectors may choose to adopt the principles of the regulations as well.
Taken together, these two initiatives will help ensure that patients are at the centre of the health care system; and that patient concerns are addressed in a structured manner.
Public feedback about Ombudsman hiring process
Ontario is moving ahead to recruit its first-ever Patient Ombudsman, after receiving feedback from nearly 1,000 Ontarians on the qualifications they think are important for this role.
As part of Ontario’s Open Government commitment, the public was invited to share their ideas on the skills, experience and personality traits that the Patient Ombudsman should have. This feedback has been incorporated into the current Patient Ombudsman selection process to guide recruitment for the new position.
The top three skills that Ontarians identified were:
- Can investigate facts and details to reveal the sources of a problem and enable its solutions.
- Can connect with decision-makers in the health care system.
- Can develop clear recommendations, based on large amounts of complex information.
When presented with a list of experiences, Ontarians identified a background in handling patient or consumer concerns as the most important. Finally, empathy and compassion were most commonly mentioned when people were asked about what additional skills, personality traits and experiences the Patient Ombudsman should possess.
The Patient Ombudsman will assist patients and their caregivers who have not had their concerns resolved through existing processes at hospitals, long-term care homes or community care access centres. The work of the Patient Ombudsman will also inform province-wide health care system quality improvement.
Establishing a Patient Ombudsman is part of the government’s plan to build a better Ontario through its “Patients First: Action Plan for Health Care.” It will provide patients with faster access to the right care; better home and community care; the information they need to live healthy; and a health care system that is sustainable for generations to come.
- Encouraging Ontarians to share their ideas about their health care system is part of the government’s Open Government commitment.
- The Patient Ombudsman will be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
- The work of the Patient Ombudsman will complement the work of other existing organizations in the health care system that handle complaints, including the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Health Services Appeal and Review Board.
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, September 30, 2015