28 Sep How to handle patient complaints

Owning or working for a medical practice means that at one point or another you have received a complaint from a patient.  Most of us have received several.  Even the best practices that place a heavy emphasis on patient satisfaction and customer service receive the occasional patient complaint.  There are two things to keep in mind regarding patient complaints.  The first, is that no matter what you do, you will never make everyone happy.  The second, and most important point to remember, is you should view patient complaints as opportunities for your practice.  Even when the feedback itself is negative, or presented in a negative way, it’s much better for your practice to receive this information so that you can evaluate it and make any necessary adjustments to your practice.

You may be thinking, that’s great, but how do I handle complaints from patients in the heat of the moment?  Here is some advice for diffusing the tension that can come from a conversation involving a patient complaint and how to turn an exchange that begins negatively into one that ends positively.

Listen.  When you are having a conversation with a patient who is upset about something, tensions will only escalate if you attempt to talk back to them or talk over them.  It’s incredible how many of these difficult conversations can be resolved just by listening to what the patient has to say.

Calm.  Keep calm during any heated discussion for a better outcome.  Try not to take it personally.  No one enjoys these types of conversations, and it might be challenging to keep your cool, particularly if the person you’re talking with isn’t keeping their cool. However, if you don’t rise to meet their level, they will have a greater likelihood of calming down themselves to meet you at a more comfortable level.

Problem escalation.  Ensure that you have a detailed, pre-defined plan in your office for escalating patient complaints.  Ensure that all staff have a good understanding of when they should involve a supervisor or manager, and when a clinician should become involved.  As important as knowing when and to whom to escalate a problem, is knowing when you should not involve others – particularly clinicians.  Ensuring that you’re including the right people will help the unhappy patient receive the correct information to address their problem.

Resolution.  End the conversation with defined action items and timelines, and be sure to set reasonable expectations with them for resolution.  Be sure that the expectations are realistic or you run the risk of further negative feedback from the patient and the risk of the situation re-escalating.

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