Tips for improving your complaints handling process

Last updated on 21 June 2023

Providing a thorough conclusion to any complaint will benefit yourself and the consumer. [Source: Shutterstock]

Aged care providers have a number of legislated responsibilities regarding the way feedback and complaints are handled, including the Aged Care Act and the Aged Care Quality Standards (specifically Standard 6). As a result, providers must provide a supportive, transparent and positive complaints process where consumers feel empowered to speak up. 

There should be no blame or complex hurdles to overcome as the complaint process is often a sensitive and personal experience for those involved. But when you create a positive environment for the complaints-handling process, you create good outcomes. 

Future provider responsibilities 

  • The strengthened Aged Care Quality Standards will be implemented in July 2024
  • Feedback and complaints management will sit under the newly formed Standard 2: The Organisation. Providers will have a number of new requirements, while others are similar to existing ones
  • Aged care providers will still be expected to encourage, support and empower consumers by offering an accessible complaints management system
  • Regular reviews of the system itself will be required, as will improvements to the quality of care and services

With changes coming for the Aged Care Quality Standards, reevaluating and improving your complaints-handling process will put you in good stead. Being proactive can have implications for potential concerns.

Impending changes to compliance mean any work regarding complaints-handling policies and processes should begin now so you’re not caught unprepared. This is what you should focus on when improving your complaints-handling process.

Listen and be receptive to complaints 

Any complaints and feedback system requires open disclosure. You have to be willing to communicate with the consumer, listen to their experience and be clear when apologising or explaining the incident in more detail.

In many ways, you have to show initiative and be willing to hear about negative experiences with products, services and interactions. Provide easy avenues for consumer feedback, including:

  • Online forms that can be filled out anonymously
  • A complaints box or physical staff member who can record complaints
  • Information on the complaints process for residents, consumers, families and advocates
  • Easily accessible contact information, including email addresses and phone numbers
  • Resources in a wide range of languages relevant to your consumer and staff
  • Information and contact details for advocacy and interpreter services for aged care consumers

One goal of open disclosure is to build collaboration and trust. Avoid relying on just an automated response when a complaint is filed. Give your consumers a face or name to trust and they’ll feel comfortable and supported throughout the entire process. 

Analyse and review critical steps

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s detailed guide is something providers should all be familiar with, and it will help you develop or strengthen existing processes. Even if you’re confident about an existing complaints-handling system, it should still be reviewed regularly to analyse outcomes, trends and potential issues. 

For example, you may find employee turnover has led to a breakdown in communication and management may not be receiving all complaints in a timely manner. Or, there could be an email address that’s receiving consumer feedback but no one has regularly monitored it. The issues impacting your internal processes don’t have to be large organisational concerns; they could be far smaller. 

Avoid delays, provide timeframes

Most aged care providers have robust systems in place to ensure complaints are dealt with in a timely manner. But if your system’s lagging and consumers are regularly reaching out for updates, it’s time to speed up the process.

The first step you can take is to speak directly with the consumer to get all the details. Find out exactly what’s happened, beyond their initial feedback, and involve them early on. No one wants to feel like they’re being made to wait so get to work quickly when collecting information and evidence. 

Of course, some incidents take time to assess and finalise, so give a realistic timeframe for a response, whether it’s 24 hours or several weeks. This could be dictated by outside parties if there are legal obligations, such as a complaint under the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS), so ensure your staff have the right information when asked about timeframes. 

Provide thorough conclusions

There are two desired outcomes for any complaint; a resolution for the consumer and an improvement in the provider’s services. Often there will be no need for a change to your services, while there can be instances where recurring complaints involve a worrying trend in service delivery or the actions of staff members. 

In these cases, it’s important to always take a comprehensive view of the situation and recognise where you can improve. So don’t be afraid to apologise – it’s certainly no admission of fault – but also don’t shy away from updating consumers about what processes you may take to address major complaints. There’s no benefit for yourself, consumers or family members when complaints are not acted on as improvements to services will always be the best outcome. 

aged care
aged care sector
aged care providers
aged care quality standards
complaints handling process