What do you do when you feel that a healthcare provider has fallen short of their professional standards? The best place to start is with the provider’s regulator. By law, Ontario’s health regulators must respond to all complaints from the public.

The regulators are called colleges, and they oversee 28 health professions including dentists, dieticians, massage therapists, psychologists, and many more.

Each college sets the standards of care for their profession. Their members have to meet and maintain those high standards, or they cannot practise in Ontario. That’s why the colleges take complaints very seriously. Their mandate is to protect patients. A college can respond to a complaint if the concern is about not meeting the standards of practice for safe and ethical healthcare. Some examples include: failing to provide adequate care; giving medicine unsafely; keeping poor records; verbally abusing a patient; having a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient; or asking for or borrowing money from a patient.

Each college has procedures for responding to a complaint. Anyone who feels that their healthcare has been compromised can make a complaint — this includes patients, their friends or family members, colleagues of the healthcare professional or their employers.

Trained staff at the college might start by helping you understand the process and standards of practice that members must follow. Sometimes colleges employ a mediator to help resolve the issue.

In most cases, the college will conduct a formal investigation, collecting evidence from health records and witnesses to write a report. If the investigation proves that the member did not meet standards of practice, the college has several options, depending on the seriousness of the matter. Actions they could take against the member are: give them a caution; require them to reflect on and improve their practice; require them to get more education; put limits on how, when or where they can practise; order health tests to see if they’re fit to practise; or revoke their college membership so that they can no longer legally practise.

Ontario’s regulators take sexual abuse very seriously. Trust is crucial in healthcare because patients are vulnerable. If that trust gets broken, it violates the patient and damages the whole profession.

For regulators, sexual abuse does not just mean sexual relations with a patient. It also includes touching, sexual remarks or behaviour, unwanted attention or gestures sexual jokes, and any kind of romantic involvement.

Even if the patient makes the first move, the healthcare provider must say “no” and keep professional boundaries. There is no time limit on making a complaint.

Find out how to make a complaint at www.ontariohealthregulators.ca.